Like A Tiger at His Heels

It’s December, and the last of this year’s batch of stories is now up at my Patreon. “The Second Occupant” is a Royal Occultist tale, which finds St. Cyprian and Gallowglass going up against one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous horrors. I’ve included a brief extract below, if you’re interested. 


“I thought it was destroyed, you see,” Abercrombie Smith said. “That shrivelled dead thing in its case, with the sale number 249 still stuck upon its front. Bellingham hacked it up the one, I saw him…” He hunched forward in his chair, hands cupped around his cooling mug of tea. “I thought I did, at any rate.”

“Indeed. More tea?” Charles St. Cyprian said, tapping the teapot with a finger.

Smith glared at him. “I have the distinct impression that you’re not taking me seriously, sir.” Smith had a boxer’s build, with hard-cut, alert features. In contrast, St. Cyprian was thin and sharp and dark. Smith was older, by almost a decade, and looked it. Both men were dressed well, as befitted their station, the one as a surgeon of some repute and the other as the current holder of the offices of the Royal Occultist.

Formed during the reign of Elizabeth the First, the office of Royal Occultist was charged with the investigation, organization and occasional suppression of That Which Man Was Not Meant to Know—including vampires, ghosts, werewolves, ogres, fairies, boggarts and the occasional worm of unusual size—by order of the King (or Queen), for the good of the British Empire. Beginning with the diligent amateur Dr. John Dee, the office had passed through a succession of hands, culminating, for the moment, in the year 1921, with one Charles St. Cyprian.

Such was the reason that Smith had called on St. Cyprian at No. 427 Cheyne Walk. That and the fact that they were both Oxford men, and alumni of Old College. Now, however, Smith seemed to be regretting his decision. “I’ll not be made the ass, sir,” he said.

“If I was intending that,” St. Cyprian said, “would I have invited you to ring ‘round to my sanctum sanctorum, and with all due haste?” He gestured airily to their surroundings. Pictures of former bearers of the office lined the walls of the sitting room, jostling for space with fetish masks and lurid artworks by Goya and Blake. Great bookshelves groaned beneath a library of occult works, as well as a century’s worth of accumulated bric-a-brac. Over the large, Restoration era fireplace, grisly statuary glared morosely at Smith.

“Dash it all, I’m not mad,” Smith barked, and set his mug down hard enough to crack it. “I’ve seen it! Leering through the windows, scratching at my door. Just this evening, I saw it loping after me, as I boarded the omnibus. It’s Bellingham’s doing! I know it!”

“Oi! Watch it! That’s part of a matched set,” a young woman snarled, as she entered the sitting room, a linen-wrapped bundle laying across her shoulder.

“Thank you, Ms. Gallowglass, but Dr. Smith is understandably upset. We can overlook a bit of chipped porcelain, I think,” St. Cyprian said. Ebe Gallowglass was feral looking in her rumpled clothes and battered flat cap, resembling nothing so much as a street tramp or Parisian apache.

She set the bundle on the floor beside St. Cyprian’s chair and flopped down into the chaise longue which sat nearby. “That’s not what you said yesterday,” she said, whipping off her cap and running her fingers through her black, razor-edged bob of hair.

“Well, Dr. Smith didn’t hurl his cup at the Victrola, now did he?”

“It scratched my record!” Gallowglass said.

Smith coughed pointedly. “Did you hear what I said…” he began.

St. Cyprian looked at him. “Quite. It followed you. Has been for days now, waiting for the right opportunity. Coming here when you did tonight likely provoked it.” He smiled thinly. “That’s why I invited you, of course. No need to beat about the bally bush, what?”

Smith’s eyes widened. Before he could speak, soot pattered down from the chimney, causing the fire to flare. Gallowglass tensed, her hand sliding beneath her coat towards the revolver holstered under her arm. St. Cyprian held up a hand. “No need for that,” he said, softly. “It can’t get in, not that way…”

Like last month’s offering, “The Maltese Tiger”, “The Second Occupant” is an orphan. Originally meant for a Chaosium anthology that never appeared, I present the story to you now, just to close out the year on a high note.

As with most Royal Occultist stories, it owes more than a bit to other works, by better authors. In this case, it’s “Lot No. 249” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s one of my favourites, and one of the best mummy stories ever written, bar Steve Duffy’s “The Night Comes On”. That said, I shamelessly plundered Conan Doyle’s story to assemble the bones of mine. It’s not the first time, either – I’m quite the literary ghoul, me – because I’ve used “Lot No. 249” as fodder for a Royal Occultist story at least once before, a fact the characters make mention of in this one.

“The Second Occupant” is a patron-only post, but it’s only a dollar to read the entire story. And if you’re short on funds, why not check out “The Riders of St. George” or one of the other free-to-read stories on my Patreon?

Also, remember to check out the new poll I put up for Patreon patrons and potential patrons regarding what sort of stories they’d like to see in the coming year. If you’re a patron, what would you like to see for your money? If you’re not a patron, what would convince you to become one? Head over to my Patreon page and have your say.