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Old Black Shuck

Chapter Text

October 1917

The trouble began when Marcellus Washburn, along with Mr. and Mrs. Squires, spotted a large black dog in River City.

The prodigious canine was standing in the middle of the road as the trio walked out of the livery stable. Normally, they would have ignored it, but there was something so unnerving about the creature that they immediately halted in their tracks. Not only was this beast gigantic, it stared at them in such a hypnotic, inexorable way – as if it was taking their measure – that they could only freeze and gaze helplessly back at it. After a long moment, the dog blinked, turned around, and then loped off into the nearby fields. As it was a mid-autumn evening, the animal’s silhouette was soon lost against the dark horizon.

Marcellus kept this sighting entirely to himself, and Jacey Squires was largely indifferent about it. But Eunice Squires was so rattled that she told Mrs. Shinn and the other ladies all about their encounter at the next Events Committee meeting. Even Marian had to admit she felt chills as she heard the tale. Mrs. Squires was normally straightforward and level-headed, but she insisted something wasn’t quite right with the creature.

“When that dog’s eyes were upon us, I felt the most powerful sadness – as if I’d never be happy again,” she said grimly. “It wasn’t until the beast turned and ran away that we were able to move.” She shuddered. “I hope I never see anything like that ever again.”

Naturally, the news spread rapidly across town from there. And given that Halloween was nearly upon them, the River City-ziens’ propensity toward superstitious fear was heightened. But it was Mrs. Paroo, of all people, who enflamed the rumors, as she was the first to suggest that the dog was supernatural.

“Mrs. Squires saw the old Black Shuck,” she gravely informed Marian and Harold during the next family dinner, when Winthrop and the girls were out of the room (it wouldn’t do to frighten the poor children, after all).

“Oh, now really, Mama!” Marian immediately scolded. She ought to have known her mother would say something ridiculous. The matron clung to Irish lore like her existence depended on it.

“It’s the sadness that gave it away,” Mrs. Paroo insisted. “Just before your father fell ill with the sickness that would kill him, I was outside of this very house hanging laundry on the line when I saw the same large black dog strolling by. It was so tall that its head peeked over the fence! It stopped, turned, and looked at me for a long while, before continuing on its way. And the whole time it looked at me, I was rooted to the spot, feeling the same powerful sadness as Mrs. Squires. Only old Black Shuck can bring that kind of doom.”

“Excuse me,” Harold interjected, looking confused. “But who – or what – is old Black Shuck?”

Marian explained before they could be regaled by any more of her mother’s foolishness. “According to legend, Black Shuck is a psychopomp – that is, a creature that escorts the souls of the dead. It pops up in old Celtic folklore all across the British Isles.” She looked pointedly at Mrs. Paroo. “Including Ireland. Seeing Black Shuck is considered very bad luck, as it is an omen of death.”

Mrs. Paroo clucked her tongue at the librarian’s skepticism. “You’re your father’s daughter, through and through. He didn’t believe me when I told him about it, either.” She shrugged. “Then again, he wasn’t Irish. But you are. Irish blood still runs in your veins, even if you ignore the truths of your ancestry. You think all the fairies stayed back in Ireland? No, me girl, they came to America right alongside us. You ignore them at your own peril.”

Marian crossed her arms. “Well then, if that’s case, Mama, why did Mr. Washburn and the Squires see Black Shuck? Washburn isn’t an Irish surname,” she pointed out. “It’s of Old English Norman origin. And Squires isn’t Irish, either.”

Still, Mrs. Paroo continued to speculate, putting her hand to her chin as she ruminated. “As I recall, Jacey’s mother was full-blooded Irish. Margaret O’Neill, her name was. Came over during the Great Hunger and married an American. Such a sweet lady, tough as nails, she was. Died fifteen years ago now.”

Marian’s heart sank. “Mama, please don’t say anything to the Squires about this Black Shuck nonsense,” she entreated.

“There’s no point in me saying a word to them, or anyone,” Mrs. Paroo said somberly. “The old Black Shuck walks where he pleases, and no mere mortal can guess or gainsay what’s fated to happen to those he shows himself to.”

XXX

The rumors might have died down in a week or two if that had been the only black dog encounter, but the livery stable incident was merely the start of the hullaballoo. Ed Langford spied the creature walking past the window of the Candy Kitchen three days later, and then Dr. Pyne saw it sprinting across the fields as he left his office three days after that. Alma Hix, who lived near the edge of town, swore she spotted it in their backyard late one night, trying to steal one of their terrified chickens. And the sightings kept piling up, until nearly everyone had a story.

The River City-ziens were already on edge, as their husbands, brothers, and sons were halfway across the world fighting the Great War, so they positively dreaded the idea that a tangible omen of death could be in their midst. Any tragedies or misfortunes that befell those, or even just the kith and kin of those, who were so unfortunate to have witnessed the beast were discussed at length and dissected in depth – no matter how distant or tenuous a connection. Soon, old Black Shuck was all anyone could talk about, even as they prepared for the upcoming Halloween masque.

At first, Marian refused to give these black dog sightings any credence, not wanting to add to the hysteria. So she did her part to uphold rationality by firmly putting a stop to any frivolous chatter regarding such nonsense in her presence. Harold, who was similarly skeptical and, what’s more, was all too familiar with the spellbinding effect that a compelling falsehood could have on the masses, also did his best to discourage, distract, and deflect from the topic. But even his charisma and finesse were no match for the allure of a ghostly fable.

And then, late one afternoon, merely two days before Halloween, Marian finally saw the black dog for herself. After exiting the library and tugging on the doors to make sure they were locked, she turned to see the beast walking down the middle of the road, right toward her.

Although she was unnerved, the librarian did her best to catalog her observations. The dog’s pace was measured and its manner self-assured. And it was indeed an enormously large creature. She suspected it was a Newfoundland, but she couldn’t be sure, as it was twilight and the dog’s fur was extremely dark – both of these factors conspired to obscure the animal’s features. But still, she was reassured to know that there was indeed a real dog roaming around, and not just a figment of the town’s collective over-imagination. It certainly was no ghost!

When the creature was about thirty feet away, it came to an abrupt stop and stared at her. As Marian gazed into its eyes, which she suddenly realized were the most unsettling shade of red, she felt a powerful wave of despair hit her. Her stomach lurched as if she’d been struck in the midsection and she fell to her knees, shivering uncontrollably. But she still couldn’t look away.

Marian didn’t know how long she knelt there, locked in this awful tête-à-tête, when she suddenly heard the clattering of footsteps to her left. At the commotion, the dog turned and ran off.

Harold’s warm, reassuring hands were around her waist, driving away the chill, and her tremors ebbed as he helped her to her feet. “Darling, are you all right?” he panted, as if he’d been running for a long stretch. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her face, and she was stunned to realize that tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“What happened?” he tenderly asked her.

She fainted in his arms.

Chapter Text

Marian awakened to see the worried faces of Harold and her mother looming over her. She sat up woozily, marveling at how the soft the ground had grown before she realized that she was lying in her bed.

“How long was I out?” she asked, still feeling rather dazed.

“About an hour – and that includes the twenty minutes it took to get you home in one piece,” Harold replied. He cupped her check. “Are you all right?”

“Are you hungry or thirsty?” Mrs. Paroo put in anxiously.

“I’m fine. But I could use some tea,” the librarian acknowledged. “And perhaps a light snack.” She felt the need to fortify herself with victuals before she confessed what she had witnessed, especially as her mother was likely to gloat for years at her own prescience!

As Mrs. Paroo bustled out of the room to put a tray together, Marian went over to the full-length mirror in Harold’s armoire and assessed her appearance. Her hair had completely fallen down, and her skirt was smudged at the knees. After changing into a crimson tea gown, redoing her chignon, and splashing some cold water on her face, she felt much better. But she still allowed her concerned husband to wrap a shawl around her shoulders and escort her downstairs.

Just as they were crossing through the parlor to join Mrs. Paroo in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. Harold and Marian looked at the parlor clock – which read ten after six – and then each other.

“Were you expecting someone, my dear?” the music professor asked.

The librarian shook her head. “It’s awfully late for visitors.” Since she was closer to the door, she went over and opened it.

A pale woman with long raven tresses stood on the front porch, along with an elderly lady that looked like a wrinkled old witch from a fairy-tale storybook.

“Why, Mrs. Addams!” exclaimed Marian. “And Grandmama. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

The Addams family had moved to River City at the end of September, taking up residence in the late Mr. Madison’s mansion. Although it was accepted and even expected that the wealthy tended to be eccentric in their appearance, behavior, or habits, the Addams family outdid themselves in all three categories.

Their clothing was stylish and well-made, but they all wore such dreadfully somber colors. Gomez Addams, the patriarch of the family, was a jovial and spirited man who was generally well-received, despite his peculiar tastes and penchant to embark on agitated rants rivaling a Shakespearean soliloquy when something stirred him. His wife, Morticia, countered his hot-blooded demeanor with a placid deportment and impeccable manners, but she never wore her hair up, as a proper lady of her station ought. Even worse, she was never clad in anything but the deepest of blacks. When asked by Mrs. Hix if she was perpetually in mourning, she smiled and replied, “Oh yes!” in the most oddly blithe and unbothered tone. After that, no one dared to pry any further.

The Addams children were even stranger. Wednesday, an ashen-faced girl who dressed plainly and wore her hair in two long braids, had a grim countenance and a piercing stare that actually made people cross the street to avoid having to exchange pleasantries with her. Those unlucky few who were forced to engage found themselves the brunt of her sharp tongue and uncanny wit. Wednesday was extremely well read, which the librarian very much appreciated, though she did raise an eyebrow at some of the girl’s more unusual requests for reading material. Normally, Marian had to urge parents to be more broadminded in what they permitted their children to read, but when Mrs. Addams asked if the library possessed any of the Marquis de Sade’s works on behalf of her daughter, she actually wished the woman was just a bit more circumspect!

Pugsley, a dour-faced boy with hooded eyes, was far less book-smart and much more approachable, but his habit of openly smoking cigars at such a tender age did not sit well with the other parents in town. The Addams also had a plump infant named Pubert – of all the horrible names to choose for a baby boy! – who was too young to have committed any offense other than having inexplicably inherited his father’s jaunty pencil mustache.

And then there was the rest of the family to contend with. Gomez’s brother Fester was a bald, hulking man who managed to come across as both endearingly boyish and freakishly intimidating. He was unmarried, but even his vast wealth couldn’t tempt River City’s widows or spinsters from joining such an outlandish clan. Grandmama was most well-known for her proclivity to mutter in strange tongues as well as her unusual – and incredibly disgusting – concoctions she brought to community potluck suppers. And finally, the family butler Lurch was a tall, menacing mute.

Still, given that the Addams were “loaded,” as Harold put it (Marian preferred to use the more genteel term well-heeled), no one dared express their disapproval openly to the family – especially after Mrs. Addams so generously invested in the activities of the Events Committee. River City had no compunction in accepting and benefiting from the Addams’ largesse while criticizing and even insulting their bizarre ways in private, just as they had with “Old Miser” Madison.

Even Marian couldn’t help being unnerved by the Addams’ strangeness. But aside from their quirks, they were unfailingly polite, warmly welcoming, and carried themselves with an unruffled serenity that was positively enviable. And Morticia Addams never had a mean word to say about anyone, which put her in a class far above several of the conventionally proper ladies of River City. So the librarian was always pleased to welcome her company.

“We were just about to have tea,” she informed the Addams ladies. “Do come in.”

“Why, thank you,” Mrs. Addams replied, gliding into the front hall with unearthly grace. “Grandmama and I have been walking for hours. We’ve been going door to door looking for our dog, Butcher. He escaped last week and still hasn’t returned home.”

“Oh, dear,” Marian sympathized as she and Harold showed them into the parlor. Inwardly, she grew excited – if ever there was an owner of the sinister beast that was currently terrorizing River City, the Addams were surely it! But before she could continue the conversation, her mother poked her head out of the kitchen.

“Marian, do you want sugar or honey in your tea… faith and begorrah!” she screeched when her gaze landed on the large, grinning skull resting in Grandmama’s hands.

“We have company, Mama,” the librarian said, her tone determinedly civil. “And I will have honey, please.”

It didn’t help. After crossing herself vigorously, Mrs. Paroo ducked back into the kitchen.

“She must be feeling unwell. Please excuse me, ladies,” Harold said courteously, and exited the parlor. Someone had to see to the tea, after all.

Marian sighed. “Please, you must forgive my mother. She is tremendously superstitious.”

Mrs. Addams simply smiled as if all was well, and elegantly took a seat on the sofa. “Oh, but it’s too charming of her, really. Isn’t it, Grandmama?”

“She’s right to be superstitious,” the crone intoned ominously. She placed the skull onto a nearby end table and plunked herself down into Harold’s favorite wingback chair. “Especially around this time of year. That’s why I carry around my husband’s head, to guard against curses.”

“How… sweet,” Marian said weakly, and then briskly turned toward Mrs. Addams. “You mentioned you were looking for your dog – is he a large black Newfoundland, by any chance?”

Mrs. Addams cocked her head. “Not really. He only turns into a black, slavering beast when someone calls him a ‘good boy.’ Most of the time, he’s a small white… well, we aren’t quite sure exactly what species Fester used when he bred him. We suspect a mix of Chihuahua and Jack Russell terrier, possibly with a bit of rat thrown in.” She looked proud. “He always was very inventive when it came to creating monsters.”

Marian ignored her steadily increasing discomfort and soldiered on. “The reason I asked is because there have been several sightings of a large black Newfoundland, lately.”

“No, that doesn’t sound like Butcher at all,” Mrs. Addams said sadly.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” the librarian soothed. “In any case, my mother believes this dog to be Black Shuck.”

The Addams ladies looked at each other with excited expressions, as if they had been given a treat.

“Oh, wouldn’t that be something!” Grandmama said nostalgically. “I haven’t seen one of those in years… ”

“Not since Grandpapa died,” Mrs. Addams avidly agreed.

“Do you have Irish ancestry, then?” Marian found herself asking with genuine curiosity. The Addams did have a way of making even her question what was sane or real. Perhaps her mother’s superstitions weren’t so ridiculous, after all…

Mrs. Addams cocked her head again. “No, I don’t believe so.”

Well and truly flummoxed, Marian could find no response to prolong the conversation.

Fortunately, she didn’t have to, as Mrs. Addams picked up the thread. “If you do see Butcher, Mrs. Hill, watch your hair. That’s what he eats, you see. Cousin Itt is positively terrified of him.”

“Cousin… It?” the librarian repeated, not certain she heard correctly.

Mrs. Addams nodded sagely. “Yes, but his hair is loose. You’ve sensibly bound yours up. So you should be just fine.”

“Why, thank you,” Marian replied, trying not to wince. Even her forbearance had difficulty countenancing a hair-eating dog/rat crossbreed.

Fortunately, Harold entered the parlor with a heaping tray of tea, biscuits, and cakes, which provided the perfect distraction from this increasingly disturbing tangent and, as the charming music professor took his seat among them, the conversation turned to relatively normal matters.

But even as Marian wore a cheerful and unruffled expression during the rest of the visit, she couldn’t help pondering the ominous and fearsome events of the afternoon and past week. If it hadn’t been Butcher, what was that sinister black dog she saw outside of the library?

Chapter Text

Halloween dawned cold and rainy. But Marian was too excited about her costume for the upcoming masque to pay much heed to the weather. In the interests of expediency during wartime – and being the parents of a pair of precocious little girls who required constant supervision – the music professor and librarian decided to dress as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette again.

However, whereas Harold’s costume was able to be repurposed from when he last wore it five years ago, Marian had to make an entirely new dress. After having given birth to twins during that timeframe, her waistline could no longer fit into the unforgiving bodice of the original sky blue gown. So she had her mother help her construct a new gown out of artificial silk – and this time, one that could be widened in the future, should her waistline expand even further. Instead of sky blue, this gown was pale pink with the most charming split bodice, scoop neckline, and bell sleeves. The neckline, sleeves, overskirt, and hems were all trimmed with white lace. An ornate multi-stringed pearl choker necklace with several pendant loops of varying lengths completed the ensemble to perfection.

The librarian wasn’t the only one who was enthusiastic about her costume. As she put the finishing touches on her elegant bouffant, Harold’s hands wrapped around her waist and his mouth found the side of her neck. “Mmm, I think I like you even better in this gown, Madam Librarian – and later tonight, I look forward to helping you out of it… ”

Although Marian shivered pleasantly at both his caress and invitation, she laughed and swatted him away. “Not now, Harold – you’ll make me drop a hairpin!”

The music professor chuckled as he withdrew to finish donning his own costume. He had already put on his breeches and stockings, and she openly admired his shapely legs as he retreated. It really was such a shame that men’s fashion had irrevocably progressed to long trousers since the eighteenth century!

“What do you think Gomez and Morticia Addams will dress up as?” Marian asked idly as she slid her last pin into place.

Harold’s chuckle turned into a full belly laugh. “I’m not sure they’ll need a costume – all they have to do is come as themselves to get a rise out of the River City-ziens!”

XXX

As it turned out, Gomez and Morticia Addams did not wear costumes to the masque, and they did not dress up little Pubert, either. However, their other children certainly got into the spirit of the holiday. Pugsley dressed as a miniature version of his father – complete with actual cigar! – and Wednesday was resplendent in an emerald green gown, her raven tresses tumbling wildly down her back. However, when she explained to curious onlookers that she was supposed to be the Green Lady, and raised the hem of her skirts to show off her hooved feet, Mrs. Paroo screeched an oath of appeal to the Almighty, crossed herself, and vacated the premises.

Fester Addams had also come to the masque uncostumed and, as he already looked like some kind of overgrown vampire in his everyday dress, any further adornment was entirely unnecessary. But the Addams that by far caused the most stir was Cousin Itt, a diminutive, hirsute being that seemed to be composed mainly – or perhaps entirely – of floor-length hair. He spoke in a grating, high-pitched chitter and, to complete this whimsical tableau, a dashing fedora was perched at a jaunty angle on his head.

As everyone else marveled at his appearance and wondered where he got his resplendent tresses, Marian leaned toward Harold. “I don’t think that’s a costume,” she murmured, remembering their odd tea with the Addams ladies.

He nodded in amused agreement. “After everything we’ve seen and heard about the Addams, nothing would surprise me at this point!”

Marian smothered a smile, as she felt it would be mean-spirited to show such mirth in public. “Have you ever met anyone like them in your travels?”

Harold shook his head. “I must say, they are quite the novelty, even for me.” His grin widened. “And I do enjoy a good novelty. It keeps things interesting.”

Unsurprisingly, no one else in the River City High School gymnasium seemed to share the music professor’s sentiment. While the River City-ziens had made great strides in welcoming outsiders after Professor Hill had transformed their quiet little town into a musical mecca, and had valiantly concealed their misgivings about the Addams family’s macabre appearance and eccentric habits, even their newfound tolerance could not countenance a chittering pile of sentient hair. Not even on Halloween.

As ever, the Addams were breezily unconcerned by all the frightened and disapproving glares that were now openly aimed in their direction. Nor did they seem to hear the censorious whispers condemning both their attire and their manners. Gomez and Morticia Addams in particular wended their way through the crowd with serene smiles, as if such reactions were not only a matter of course, but something to be cherished. Yet for all their love of ghoulishness, there was absolutely no malice in their demeanor. This was just who they were, and they had absolutely no qualms as to their unorthodox display.

Marian understood this, and she knew Harold did, too, but even their clout as the highly respected “first citizens” of River City wouldn’t be enough to prevent a riot, if the townspeople grew too antsy and alarmed to listen to reason. The librarian and music professor exchanged a worried look. It was up to them to set the example before the atmosphere got too unbalanced.

As Gomez and Morticia Addams continued to stroll around the gymnasium, Harold and Marian went over to them and greeted them warmly, paying them many effusive compliments as to their philanthropic support and their children’s creativity in costumes. Thankfully, this gesture dispelled the tension enough that everyone not only hushed their gossip, a few people even had the grace to look ashamed of their meanness of spirit. Although no one else was brave enough to express such cordiality, they had at least renewed their determination to be civil.

As Harold and Marian exchanged another look, this time of relief, Gomez heartily clapped the music professor’s back. “Well played, old man! Do you fence with a sword as well as you do with your tongue?”

Harold coughed at the impact, but recovered quickly. “I’m afraid not, son,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “My mother insisted on dance lessons.”

Gomez beamed, as if that was just what he was hoping to hear. “I thought you looked like a man who’s light on his feet!” He caught the music professor’s arm in an iron grip and pulled him out to the floor. “Come, dance the Mamushka with us. Tonight, you will be our honorary brother!”

Gomez and Fester then proceeded to sing a stirring song about brotherly love as they led the rather beleaguered music professor through a complex series of steps. Marian was both pleased and impressed to see that once Harold caught on to the pattern, he kept up with admirable aplomb, rivaling Gomez Addams in elegance and élan. Even the River City-ziens started to clap and cheer at the display, and the librarian tentatively began to hope that this could be the start of a beautiful friendship between River City and the Addams family. After all, the Shipoopi had firmly cemented her own public acceptance.

And perhaps this would have happened, if the knives hadn’t come out. When Fester procured a large pile of daggers and started throwing them recklessly at Gomez, who tossed them back with similarly careless ease, Harold froze and the crowd gasped with fear and shock. Harold remained utterly still, his expression inscrutable as knives whirled around him – some missing him by mere millimeters – and the Addams brothers laughed both raucously and maniacally at their own hijinks.

Even Marian’s forbearance was sorely tested by watching the way Gomez and Fester gleefully held her beloved husband hostage. Yet for all their taunting, there was still a lack of true malice in their demeanor – they were ribbing Harold as if this was merely all in good fun and he was indeed their brother. But then again, what kind of brothers threw actual knives at each other?

After wrestling with her conscience, Marian ultimately thought it best not to interfere lest she accidentally cause serious or even fatal injury. So she held her breath and prayed that their aim remained true. Fortunately, once the infernal juggling finally came to a halt, no one was injured, not even when Fester swallowed one of those long daggers all the way up to the hilt for a few heart-stopping moments. When the Mamushka ended, he pulled the still-shining knife out of his throat, raised it to the sky, and grinned wildly.

At first, no one was quite sure how to react. But after only a brief pause, Harold relaxed and started applauding enthusiastically, as if it was all just an exciting circus performance, and the River City-ziens once again followed his lead.

“Let’s hear it for the Mamushka!” the music professor bellowed. “And now, in return for their generosity in extending me brotherhood, I would like to invite the Addams family to dance the Shipoopi with us!”

Although the townspeople happily rushed to acquiesce, Marian still wasn’t quite recovered. Shortly after Harold’s hands found her waist and he whirled her in time to the upbeat music, she leaned in and whispered with real concern, “Are you all right, Harold?”

Harold let out a laugh that sounded far more relieved than amused, though the grin he gave her was devil-may-care as ever. “As exhilarating as the Mamushka was, it was definitely an experience I wouldn’t like to repeat!” He looked closely at her. “Are you all right, my dear little librarian?”

“I can’t say I was happy about them throwing those knives around you,” she admitted. “They could have killed you!”

“Well, there was no harm done, so there’s no hard feelings,” he replied. “But I promise you that from now on, I won’t let them rope me into any more of their dances!”

“Good,” she said firmly, and relaxed enough to enjoy both the quickstep they were currently doing and Harold’s twinkling eyes as he gazed deeply into hers.

Although Marian always lost herself in the arms of her dashing husband when they danced together, she did spare a glance or two to see how the Addams family took to the Shipoopi. To her delight, they appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Unsurprisingly, Gomez and Morticia’s grace and passion for each other rivaled that of Harold and Marian’s, and they performed the dance as if they had been doing it all their lives. Fester was whooping it up with Marcellus – they sang arm in arm together – and even the children were attempting to follow along as Tommy and Zaneeta patiently guided and encouraged them. Cousin Itt had somehow charmed Mrs. Squires into dancing with him, and she actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Grandmama bounced Pubert on her knee as his plump little hands clapped along.

And so they made it to the end of the Shipoopi without incident, and the townspeople’s goodwill for the Addams was once again renewed. Before the Addams could make yet another well-meaning faux paus that would set them back yet again, Harold immediately called for a minuet. Only Harold and Marian Hill and Gomez and Morticia Addams danced together this time, and they made such a stunning quartet that when the set concluded, everyone applauded without prompting.

Marian appreciatively nudged her husband. “Well played, indeed.”

But she had spoken too soon. Before anyone else could interject, Gomez tore off his suit-coat and declared that it was time for a tango.

This, in itself, was not so bad. But when he and his wife started whirling around the dance floor, it was the most scandalously sensual display that River City had ever seen. As Gomez and Morticia’s legs weaved in and out of each other’s, they exchanged a gaze so heated that Marian feared it would set the gymnasium ablaze.

No one joined them on the dance floor, not even Harold and Marian. Even if she hadn’t been wearing a gown that was far too full to attempt such complicated maneuvering, she and her husband were too passionately in love to risk such impropriety, and their presence would only add to the sensuality. Indeed, when the librarian sidled up to her husband, he looked openly intrigued.

“Just what are you thinking of so intently, Professor Hill?” she asked archly.

Harold turned to face her. “I’m thinking that I’d very much like to do that with you.”

He slid an arm around her waist and tugged her closer. Since everyone was too busy being scandalized by the Addams’ wanton display to pay any attention to them for once, she happily allowed his advances, and nestled into his embrace. In truth, his reaction excited her, as she knew exactly what she had to look forward to later tonight, especially now that he was all riled up.

As they watched Gomez and Morticia unabashedly dance with all the passion that was smoldering between them, Marian wistfully wondered, “What do you suppose it’s like to be an Addams? To not care a whit what other people think of you sounds wonderful.”

“They certainly look like they have a great deal of fun together,” Harold agreed. “In fact, they make us look downright tame.”

“Well, the way we act in public, anyway,” she slyly observed.

Clearly emboldened by both the Addams’ loose behavior and her blatant encouragement of his flirtation, Harold pulled her even closer and pressed a close-mouthed but fervent kiss to the side of her neck. “I intend to more than make it up to you when we get home tonight, my dear little librarian.”

Feeling rather emboldened herself, she replied, “See that you do, Mister Hill.”

Her eyes locked with Harold’s. He might just have kissed her, and she might just have allowed it, but then the tango came to an end and a smattering of gasps erupted throughout the gymnasium.

Harold and Marian’s attention immediately snapped to the dance floor. Not only had Gomez and Morticia struck an artful pose, with him dipping her in his arms, their lips were locked in the most passionate of kisses.

If it was a century or two ago, they would have promptly been hanged for public indecency – and perhaps even witchcraft. But since it was the modern age, people could only gape at them, appalled.

Mayor Shinn recovered his senses first. “Cease that consarned obscenity at once!” he thundered. “There are children present!”

Gomez and Morticia separated, looking both bemused and breathless, as if they’d just emerged from a long sojourn underwater. As they registered the irate and offended glares of the crowd surrounding them, Gomez’s breath hitched in his throat and he looked positively aroused, as if everyone’s anger was the most potent of aphrodisiacs.

“Oh, Tish, this is just like Salem all over again,” he sighed, taking her hand in his and pressing his mouth ardently against her palm. “Do you remember?”

Morticia gave him an avid look that would have been far more suitable for the bedroom than a public ball. “Of course, my darling. The shouting…  ”

“The angry mob…  ”

“The burning torches…  ”

“The threat of hanging and disembowelment…  ”

“The grim specter of torture and death looming over the two of us… ”

For all the morbidity of their flirtation, Gomez and Morticia Addams had never looked so alive. Their eyes were bright, their grins were feral, and their faces were inches apart, as if they were seconds away from devouring each other again. They had whipped themselves up into such a heated frenzy that Marian honestly wouldn’t have put it past them to abandon propriety entirely and make love right then and there. Although the music had stopped long ago, she could have sworn she heard violins playing a melody that was both unnerving and romantic.

Meanwhile, barely repressed disapproval and fury were once again roiling through the River City-ziens, just waiting for one more spark to ignite the gathering tension into full-fledged riot, and there was no longer anything Harold or Marian could do to prevent it. There was no telling what might have happened, if not for an unexpected commotion: Cousin Itt burst into the gymnasium and ran pell-mell toward Gomez and Morticia, chittering and screeching in sheer terror. When everyone realized that he was being chased by a snarling black dog, they enthusiastically joined him in his panic.

“It’s the Black Shuck!” someone shouted, which immediately set people running.

“Butcher!” Gomez exclaimed happily, opening his arms to the decrepit creature, which leaped into them, but with the clear intent to savage instead of greet his master. When Butcher failed to succeed in that endeavor, he slipped out of the patriarch’s grasp and turned his attention to the fleeing townspeople.

From then on, it was sheer pandemonium. As Harold quickly and expertly led Marian out of the fray, she saw Mrs. Shinn and her ladies upend the entire refreshment table in their haste to escape the hubbub. The large bowl of punch was launched into the air, landing squarely on Mayor Shinn’s head and knocking him out cold. As Mrs. Shinn screamed and dove to the floor to weep over his insensate state, the other ladies continued to abscond, with Tommy and Zaneeta being the only ones brave enough to stop and assist the poor mayor’s wife in protecting him from being trampled. Those who could not manage to escape through the wide double doors climbed up the bleachers and even the ropes.

Having wisely foreseen the inevitable pile-up at the door, Harold had gotten both himself and Marian up onto a small catwalk that no one else could easily reach, especially not in such a flustered state. As the music professor and librarian hunkered down to wait out the melee, Marian sighed. Her beautiful gown was now torn, stained, and ruined beyond repair. “So much for welcoming the Addams family with open arms!”

“I don’t foresee they will be allowed at any public functions in the future,” Harold grimly agreed, also looking a great deal worse for wear. Not only had he completely lost his wig, his jacket and breeches were ripped in several places.

As Gomez and Morticia stood untouched and pristine in the middle of the gymnasium, merrily observing all the chaos, Butcher continued to terrorize anyone who was so unfortunate as to stumble across his path. Thankfully, not everyone had completely lost their heads – Constable Locke, Fester, and Marcellus had teamed up to form a posse and, between the three of them, they were gradually managing to drive the rampaging creature toward a crate that had once held basketballs but was now lying empty on its side. Pugsley and Wednesday and even Pubert gleefully added their assistance, though it was clear from their bright eyes and eager grins that they were thoroughly relishing the carnage.

In a display of physical bravado that was stunning even for him, Marcellus finally caught Butcher by the collar and dragged him into the crate. Fester immediately leaped in to help him turn it upright, and Constable Locke slammed a cover on top of it, thus ending the creature’s reign of terror for good.

“Thanks for the help!” Fester said to Marcellus, cordially clapping him on the shoulder.

Marcellus winced as he examined his scratched-up arm. “Butcher doesn’t have rabies, does he?”

“No, just me,” Fester replied airily.

That was more than enough for even the stoic and level-headed Marcellus – he instantly retreated to huddle in a corner with Mr. and Mrs. Squires. Fester simply shrugged and helped Constable Locke tie a rope around the crate, for good measure. “He should settle down soon, as long as you don’t call him a good boy” – a renewed bout of violent snarling emerged from the still-shaking box – “Whoops, sorry about that, Butcher!”

Fortunately, the beast did not break free from its containment, and the River City-ziens’ panic finally started to ebb as they realized the creature was no longer in their midst. As people sheepishly started to climb down from their perches and file back into the gymnasium to assess the damage and help the injured, Harold and Marian joined them.

As she gestured for her still-giggling children to come along, Morticia beamed when she saw Marian. “Thank you so much for inviting us. This has been such fun! We’ll have to have tea together again very soon, but at our house this time.”

After the events of the evening, the librarian could only smile and nod, though she knew that was one invitation she wasn’t going to be able take up, even had she wanted to.

“It would be a delight to teach you the finer points of fencing, old man,” Gomez said jovially to Harold as he wrapped a paternal arm around Cousin Itt, who was still trembling and chittering softly. “You showed true potential during the Mamushka – I think you’d greatly enjoy it!”

“Indeed,” the music professor said, politely but noncommittally.

Mayor Shinn, who had since recovered consciousness and was sporting an impressive goose-egg on his forehead, looked positively apoplectic at the exchange, as did his long-suffering wife. However, neither of them dared to speak, as they both got a very nasty back off glare from Fester. The hulking, overgrown brother was far more aware of the dangerous undercurrents of the mob and was clearly used to acting as his dear family’s bodyguard. And given that he was presently in possession of a crate that contained the fiendish black dog that had likely been terrorizing their town over the past month, not even City Hall was brazen enough to gainsay them.

So the entire Addams family and their creature were allowed to leave the gymnasium, unmolested and unpunished. A flurry of animated conversation erupted after their exit and, while it was not determined whether anyone should be arrested or fined, or whether the dog should be put down, it was swiftly resolved that the Addams family was no longer welcome to attend any public functions in River City.

While Marian was somewhat dejected that the Addams were now considered permanent pariahs, she tried to take solace in the fact that at least the matter of old Black Shuck was settled. But as she and Harold exited the gymnasium, she heard Mrs. Squires mutter to both her husband and Marcellus, “That wasn’t the dog we saw.” And the librarian got the chills, because the more she sifted through her recollections amidst the chaos and panic in order to contemplate Butcher’s appearance, the more she realized that he couldn’t have been the dog she had seen, either.

Chapter Text

Marian awakened to see Harold’s worried face looming over her. She sat up woozily, marveling at how the soft the ground had grown before she realized that she was lying in her bed.

“What day is it?” she asked, confused.

“It’s the evening of October 29, my dear little librarian,” Harold confirmed.

She bolted upright in bed. “What? How could that possibly be? We just attended the Halloween masque!”

The concern in his expression deepened. “The Halloween masque isn’t for another two days, darling.”

“But I remember it, plain as day,” she insisted. “I wore a pale pink Marie Antoinette gown and the Addams family caused such a terrible uproar!”

Now it was Harold’s turn to look confused. “The Addams family? Who are they?”

“Oh, Harold, you couldn’t possibly have forgotten such a distinctive and peculiar clan!” the librarian scoffed. “They just moved to town recently… didn’t they?”

“You must have been dreaming,” the music professor said gently. “You are going to wear a pale pink Marie Antoinette gown to the masque, but there is no family by the name of Addams living in River City – at least, none that I know of. You fainted in front of the library earlier this afternoon and I brought you home. You’ve been out for nearly two hours.”

“When I woke up last time, Mama was here,” she said, still trying to make sense of things. “And where are Penny and Elly? Come to think of it, I didn’t see them at tea or the masque… ”

“Your mother is here, and so are our daughters,” he replied soothingly. “They’re all keeping busy downstairs while I tend to you.”

Marian was oddly crestfallen. “Then it was a dream, after all.” She put her hand to her head, which was now throbbing. “So much has happened – I can’t be sure what’s real… ”

Harold took a seat next to her on the bed and rested a warm hand on the small of her back. “Why don’t you tell me all about it?” he entreated. “Let me help you sort everything out.”

So Marian told him everything, from her eerie sighting of the black dog, to the strange tea with Morticia and Grandmama Addams, to the catastrophic masque that caused a town-wide panic. When she discussed her encounter with the dog, Harold looked alarmed and opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again and motioned for her to continue when she questioned his demeanor. When she moved on to the Addams family and described their character and the River City-ziens’ reactions to them, his eyes danced with laughter and his shoulders shook as if he was trying to contain the full measure of his mirth.

“The Addams family sounds like something right out of a macabre fairy tale!” Harold chuckled when she came to the end of her recollections. “Maybe you ought to write this dream down and turn it into a story.”

Marian laughed and shook her head. “I was always far better at reading stories than I ever was at writing them.” She sighed. “And even if I did dream up the Addams family and the events of the masque, I couldn’t have dreamed up the black dog because I saw it before I fainted – it was the reason I fainted.”

Harold looked apprehensive again. “I can’t say what you saw, as I didn’t see anything, myself. I was too focused on reaching you as fast as I could to tell you some very important news. This morning, a farmer just north of town caught a stray dog in one of his coyote traps. It had to be shot immediately because it was rabid.”

“Rabid!” she gasped. “Was it a Newfoundland?”

He shrugged. “No breed was mentioned, but the creature was said to be very large and black as coal. It was clearly a wild dog, and most likely it was the animal that everyone’s been seeing all over the place. Rabies would certainly explain its odd and erratic behavior – it’s a miracle that no one was attacked or injured!”

Marian felt the most disconcerting chill run through her. Regardless of what her instincts clamored, her rational mind insisted that her sighting had to have been a coincidence, or perhaps even a hallucination brought on by hysteria. But she had never believed in old Black Shuck, she was wide awake at the time, and that dog, uncanny though it had been, was as real as anything she’d ever seen.  “Harold… if a large black dog was trapped and killed this morning, then what did I see outside the library this afternoon?”

“I don’t know,” he said grimly. “Another stray, perhaps? They do tend to travel in packs. In any case, I’ll let everyone know to keep an eye out for more animals, as our ‘old Black Shuck’ problem might not be completely solved just yet. But at least everyone is being sensible about black dogs again, as you Iowans ought to be.”

We Iowans,” she corrected, leaning even closer to him and playfully brushing his nose with hers. “Don’t you ever forget, Professor Hill, that you’re one of us now.”

Harold grinned and wrapped both of his arms around her. “We Iowans,” he agreed. “And as a mark of my good Iowan sense, I plan to escort you to and from the library for at least the next week, to keep you safe from any other wild dogs that might decide to come out of the woodwork.”

Although this didn’t entirely remedy her disquiet or even her disappointment that she would probably never know precisely what she saw, Marian nodded and nestled into her husband’s protective and eager embrace.

XXX

No one ever saw the large black dog in River City again after that. But merely one-and-a-half years later, in March 1919, Jacey Squires and several others died of the Spanish flu. Though she was not so tactless as to trumpet her opinion throughout the entire town, Mrs. Paroo insisted to Harold and Marian that old Black Shuck had indeed betokened their impending demise. And no one could tell her any different.

XXX

October 31, 1995

“Did you sleep well, everyone?” Morticia Addams asked her family conversationally over breakfast.

“Horribly,” they all chorused cheerfully, except for Wednesday, who replied in her usual composed monotone.

Fester looked particularly excited, rocking back and forth as if he could barely contain his elation. “I had the strangest nightmare last night!”

Dementia and Margaret Alford-Addams exchanged a thrilled look. Indeed, all the Addams from Grandmama to Pubert gazed at him in avid attention.

“Oh, do tell!” said Dementia eagerly. She and Fester were to be married this evening, and a nightmare on both the eve of Halloween and one’s wedding night was especially fortuitous.

“Well, it all started in a creepy little town called River City, Iowa… ”