In Babs’s experience, there were two kinds of monsters. There were those like herself who were born into monsterhood, gaining the powers, weird hair, magical secrets, etc. etc. of their parents, who could guide them into an adulthood of monstrosity and shield them, for a while, from the cold, uncaring world of man.
Then there were those who had monstrousness thrust upon them. Those who touched magical amulets and were transformed into giant apes, those who tripped and fell into vats of strange chemicals, those who tried to learn secrets humanity was never meant to know and who then had to pay the ultimate price—you know the type of thing.
This second group of monsters tended not to live very long. Unable to control their new, dangerous bodies, unaware of the fact that the general public wanted to ignore and even deny the existence of monsters (and would defend that God-given right at the end of a pitchfork, with the slightest provocation), they burned out like matches rather than candles. They had nobody to teach them the secrets of proper monstering, and so fell afoul of the many pitfalls of the life. These poor once-human souls tended to go on rampages that ended badly for everyone involved, or they put an end to their own suffering, or they wandered off to caves and swamps where they just wasted away, pining forever after the lives they’d once known.
Kate most certainly would have starved out in the woods, had Thurlow not sent her to Grimbly Hall. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to her, though the way she kept bursting into tears made it hard to keep that in mind.
“Now I’ll have to live here forever, with the freaks and the ghouls,” she moaned. She blew her nose quite volubly into a handkerchief that smoldered before she was done with it. “No offense.”
Babs drew in a long breath. “None taken,” she said. She had long since come to accept and revel in her own monsterity. “Really, it’s not so bad. I’ve been a monster all my life and I’ve managed to have a pretty good time.”
“Sure—fast parties, faster cars. Darb bun-eaters lined up around the block for the chance to shred my corns.” Dancing partners, in other words. Babs looked up into the air as she spoke of it, those heady days back in the city, back before she’d come to the Hall. She’d traded that life for the more pastoral joys of Neville’s house, but already she was starting to miss it. It didn’t help that the staff at Grimbly Hall all seemed to think she was just after a sugar daddy.
But that was beside the point. “I’ve had it all, kid. You can, too.”
“You’re going to turn me into… a flapper,” Kate said, staring off into space.
“Well, one step at a time. I’ve got some ideas about how we could improve your situation.” The sneakers had given her some ideas, in fact. She led Kate out of the house and over to the garage. Reggie kept all manner of tools back there, some of which required protective gear even when used by a werewolf. There was a full metal shop, for instance, with a welding torch, and that meant he needed welding gloves: thick, rubber-lined gauntlets. They proved to be far too large for Kate, but she put them on anyway.
“Now,” Babs said, “we can be properly introduced.” And she held out a hand for Kate to shake.
“I don’t know…” the young woman said, but then Babs seized the initiative and grasped Kate’s hands through the gloves. Much as she’d expected—well, hoped—she was not shocked in the slightest.
“See? Better already,” Babs said. “Now, about that dress of yours.” She stroked her chin as she examined the young woman’s cotton shift. “Funny that it hasn’t burned off of you by now.”
Kate looked shocked and unconsciously folded her arms across her chest, as if the dress were about to evaporate. “It’s the same one I was wearing the night I was struck,” she said.
“Well, that’s at least half an explanation,” Babs said. “If you’re ever going to sit in a proper chair again, though, we’ll need to do better. Wait here.” She ran back into the house, to the nearest bathroom, and tore down a rubberized shower curtain. Returning to the garage she found a pair of good shears and a spool of cellulose thread. “It’s been a long time since I made a dress, but I think I remember how.” She eyeballed Kate’s dimensions, then began trimming out half-remembered shapes from the shower curtain. “Normally I’d go for a more fashionable hemline, something that hit you just below the knees,” she said, while she worked.
“Mama always said that a girl who shows her knees in public will show everything else in private,” Kate said. She glanced at Babs’s own dress, which was on the modern side of scandalous. “No offense.”
Babs gave her a tight little smile. “None taken,” she said. “Anyway, we’re better off covering you up like Carrie Nation. The less of you that’s exposed, the less chance you’ve got to burn the house down.”
Working with an upholstery needle, she made short work of the dress-making, though of course it still took longer to do than it does to tell. When she was finished, she turned her back so Kate could change into her new outfit.
“There. Now let’s have a look at you,” Babs said.
The shower curtain had an Art Deco print that was probably more suited to a costume in an avant garde theatrical performance than to daily wear, but it would do in a pinch. The finished dress had full sleeves and skirt, and hung on Kate like a tent. One shoulder stood up three inches higher than the other. The hemline was simply ragged, and trailed on the ground around Kate’s tennis shoes. The one concession to fashion that Babs had insisted on, a sort of scarf that tied around Kate’s neck, stuck up in a distinctly un-scarfish way, looking more like a horrible bow.
“Perfect,” Babs said. “Hot stuff!”
Kate actually laughed a little, turning one way, then the other to get a sense of how the dress flowed. Which it frankly didn’t, at all, but beggars, of course, are notoriously limited in their options.
“Put a shower cap on and you can probably sleep in a real bed tonight,” Babs suggested.
“That would be heavenly,” Kate said. “Last night I tried to lie down for a while in a pile of wet leaves but by the time I started falling asleep they were already smoldering.”
Babs tutted in pity. “Alright. Now, our next stop is the library. There are just scads of books about curses and odd occurrences in there. We’ll look and see if anyone else has ever gone through this before, and what they did about it. I’m sure we can—”
She stopped because just then Kate’s stomach made a noise like a bear waking up from winter hibernation. A low, rumbling sound, perhaps not unlike the noise a subway car makes as it enters an underground station. A groaning, plaintive noise.
It went on for rather a long time. Long enough for similes to jump to mind.
“When was the last time you ate?” Babs asked. “Never mind, don’t even answer. It’ll just make me weep that I didn’t think of it already. I’ll meet you in the dining room—I’ll just have a quick word with Mrs. P and let her know we’ve got company.”
The housekeeper was, of course, already busy putting together a luncheon for two, because she was very, very good at her job and because she could count. “She is staying tonight?” Mrs. Patavatsky asked, gesturing with a carving knife. She’d already disassembled most of a roasted ham. “Your friend?”
“She might be staying for a while,” Babs said. “Can you have Hughes make up one of the spare bedrooms? He’s not talking to me right now.”
“Mrs. Hughes, he never speaks,” Mrs. P pointed out.
“Yes, well he’s doing it very aggressively at the moment.”
The housekeeper nodded and went back to her preparations. “Must be nice, for you. Having partner in crime here.”
Babs had been halfway out of the kitchen, not wanting to leave Kate alone for longer than she could help. “I beg your pardon,” she said now, ducking back in through the door.”
“Is your accomplice, yes? Always good, have help. Can carry good china.” Mrs. P pointed at a cabinet next to the sink. “Leave samovar, though. Has sentimental value for me.”
Babs shook her head in frustrated anger. “How many times do I have to tell you I’m not here to steal anything?” Something occurred to her, then. “You’d like me more if I was a thief, wouldn’t you?”
“Is better than cosmopolitan parasite, no?” Mrs. P suggested. “Now, you leech on labor of workers. Contribute nothing. You take silver, this is blow to hegemony of capitalism.”
“I simply cannot win,” Babs said, and left it at that. She stormed out of the kitchen wondering if maybe it was time to take her leave of Grimbly Hall. After all, she’d never planned on sticking around for long, and without Neville and Reggie there the place was chilly as an igloo.
She could take Kate with her. Cut out in the night and head for the city, introduce the young woman to all the delights of modern life. At least Kate hadn’t accused her of being a sneak thief, yet.
By the time she reached the dining room, Hughes had begun serving the meal, bringing out the ham and pots of mustard, a green salad and a plate of fruit. As each new delicacy was placed on the table, Kate’s eyes grew wider and wider.
Yet when she tried to take a bite of a pear, her face turned green and she had to spit the fruit into her napkin.
“I’m—I’m sorry,” she said.
Babs frowned. “No need to apologize. Just a bad pear—they’re not exactly in season. Here. Try the salad.”
It proved equally unappetizing to Kate. Babs took some for herself and found it crisp and delicious. They quickly ran through all the food on the table—the ham, the slices of fresh bread, even the condiments—but Kate couldn’t seem to choke any of it down. “It looks good, but then I put it in my mouth and it just doesn’t taste like food,” she explained. “What’s happened to me? Am I going to starve to death?”
“No,” Babs said, with far more authority than she felt. She rose from the table. “Mrs. Patavatsky has experience cooking for all kinds of palates,” she said. Including those from outer space or deep under the sea. Surely the housekeeper could find something the young woman could eat. “Stay here.”
She didn’t get far, though. Before she’d crossed the great hall, the entire house was plunged into darkness. Dimness, anyway. Light still streamed in through the windows, but every electrical lamp in Grimbly Hall just stopped working—at the same time.
Future readers may find this hard to believe, but in 1927 the electrical grid still hadn’t been perfected and there were occasional interruptions of service, called “blackouts”. As a result people tended to keep candles and kerosene lanterns handy. Babs fetched a candle and some matches and rushed back to the dining room, to assure Kate that everything was fine. At first she couldn’t see the young woman, though—she wasn’t sitting at the table. In her limited candlelight, Babs hunted the room for any trace of where Kate had gone.
And nearly tripped over her.
A word, now, on household appliances.
The two-prong electrical plug readers will be familiar with was not invented until 1928. Before then, the only way to get power in one’s home was through the ubiquitous light socket—you unscrewed a light bulb and plugged, say, your toaster in its place. Grimbly Hall had been outfitted—at considerable cost—with a slightly more convenient system. Sockets had been embedded in the walls of every room, hidden behind little brass plates.
Kate was down on the floor with her tongue stuck squarely into one of these sockets. She looked up at Babs with an expression of utter mortification.
“I was just so hungry,” she explained, in chagrined tones.
Babs helped her back up to her feet. “That’s quite alright,” she said. “Though—perhaps we’ll keep this on the q.t.”