“Damn it!” Lon slurred, tilting the bottle upside down. “We’re all out.” Some of the absinthe splashed from his glass to his neckcloth, leaving unseemly green splotches on the white linen.
Ricard laughed, dealing another hand as he spoke. “I do think you’ve had quite enough anyway, old friend.”
Lon ignored him, raising his glass to his lips and further sloshing out more green liquid. “Did anyone bring any more? Where are we going to find any in this hell hole? Merde, they probably make their own grog in bathtubs. Liquor from pommes de terre.”
I picked up my fresh cards and replied, “It’s not so bad here, Lon. Have you seen the women at the local Madame’s?”
“Cows, all of them,” Lon shouted, rising unsteadily. “I’m off to find more of la fée verte. You trolls can just rot here.”
Ricard shot me an inquisitive look, and I nodded. “Come Lon, let’s go see if we can find that green fairy of yours.”
He stumbled out of the club, and I grabbed his arm to make certain he didn’t fall into the muddy gutter. He turned left arbitrarily, and we began heading down the unfamiliar street. Hopefully, the fresh air would do him some good.
Main Street was like a ghost town, except for one lit storefront. I could just make out the English lettering on the window across the street, though what an undertaker was doing up so late I couldn’t pretend to guess.
“Pissant little burg” Lon sputtered. “The sooner we leave in the morning, the better.”
“I don’t think you’ll be up to any traveling before noon, old boy,” I said. He didn’t seem to notice me saying anything though, and we continued down the street in silence.
We walked for quite a ways. The buildings began thinning out as we reached the end of the street, walking on the hard-packed dirt. I hardly noticed the change, as a full moon and a sky packed full of twinkling stars lit our way. Pretty soon, nothing surrounded us but trees and silence.
“Merde, what is this? So close to the town? Have these people no shame?” Lon said. I saw that we were now walking by a graveyard, separated from us by a mere rickety fence. Headstones gleamed like unearthly melon halves in the moonlight. Eerie calm filled the air. Why was it so silent?
“Let’s go back, now,” he suggested, his voice sounding clearer. Well, if he was spooked sober, all the better for me. We turned back and crossed the road, distancing ourselves from the dead.
How far we had walked! I hadn’t noticed the distant town receding behind us. I couldn’t even see it beyond the next rise.
“Do you believe the dead can come back and haunt the living?” Lon asked suddenly.
I suppressed a shiver. Of all places to bring it up. “Come now. Of course not.”
He appeared not to hear me, however. “I sometimes believe it. Especially because of Clarice.”
I looked at him sharply. He had hardly spoken of her since the accident. The moon highlighted the grim set of his mouth, the long nose, but shadowed his eyes.
“Sometimes when I’m asleep, she comes to me in the night. She invites me to come with her. I want to go. But I’m afraid. And when she turns to leave, her gown is shredded. Her skin…her back…it’s like that day at the train…” he dissolved into tears.
“Alright, alright. We’ll get you some coffee when we get back to the club.” I patted him brusquely on the arm. His sniffling subsided.
“First, we need to stop here,” he tugged at my arm, towards the one lit window on the block.
“Are you mad?” I shook my head. My heart skipped a beat and sped up. “Come on, let’s just go back and sleep it off.” I pulled him away, but he resisted, yanking me toward the door with surprising strength.
“No, I have a friend I need to introduce to you. We met just today. He’s been doing…experiments. You really should see.”
“What? For pity’s sake, no!” But I couldn’t shake him off.
The door swung wide. Clarice blocked the flood of light coming from the room, her pallid face open in a blank grin.
“Darling, I knew you’d come.”
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