It was a peculiar island, the one I happened upon. This island exuded a rotting smell – unmistakeable in it's nuances – it could only be the smell of flesh. Of who or what however, I did not know. The creaky and sluggish wind pushed the ship along towards this desolate place, it was unthinkable that anyone could inhabit it. The color of the sky had all but drained out of the air, life itself seemed to be in suspension. The sails died down, there was not a single breeze. The only word to describe this place would be stagnation.
With the ship anchored, I walked onto the rocky beach, searching for a sign – preferably of human habitation – or any living being. A sharp cawing caught my attention, and drew it towards a perched, black bird on a branch so rotted one could not fathom how it could bear the weight, even of such a light creature. It seemed to beckon to me, and for a millisecond, my breath became sparse. Were it the size of a normal raven, I would not have been so taken. However, this creature was the size of a small Saint Bernard!
“Hello” a rasping breath said. At first I turned around to check for people, but again, the bird repeated it's statement. “Hello!”
Carefully, I inched closer to the gigantic thing. “Hello Mr. Raven.” I expected a curt reply, in the same manner that he had greeted me with. Peculiarly though, he flew off. That beast managed flight! I decided it would be to my benefit to follow him, and as I hurried on his tail, I marked his direction. In the distance, looming behind the canopy of the long dead trees, was a magnificent castle like none ever constructed. Were it in a state of decay, it would have fitted in with the rest of the environment; alas, it seemed to be constructed to mirror the state of it's surroundings. Long, gothic architecture was encircled by an advanced design not seen in most modern cities. As I approached, the strong, unmistakeable scent only grew stronger and heavier. It grew so much stronger and heavier that as I cleared the tree line, the air was thick enough to choke me. Beyond the tree line, I discovered the source of the terrible air. Before me was a sprawling cemetery, with some one hundred grave markers. The thought that people had lived on this wretched island astounded me. It was completely isolated. The raven perched itself on a tall grave marker and repeated “Hello!” in the same curt manner. It flew off again, up towards the high battlements. In the distance, I saw a faint silhouette of a portly man pushing a wheel barrow. At once, I hurried towards his location.
“Excuse me sir!” I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this man could explain the odd occurrences. He spotted my figure and seemed unamused but not quite hostile enough to turn me away.
“You! Boy, what's it you've got in that case!” He motioned to my hands. I glanced down; what case was he talking about? Sure enough, in my hands was the doctor's bag I was sure I had left in the ship's cabin, next to the door stopping tomes of medical books. I began to reply, but when I glanced back up to his face, his expression struck me as odd. His voice clearly had anger and annoyance, but not a muscle of his face reflected that. Stitches wrapped around his countenance, and not a single inch of his face was unmarred, most was even bruised.
“Sir.. I've been sailing for a month and I'm fearfully low on supplies. I beg of you, please allow me to restock here! I'll gladly pay for the supplies...” His gaze drifted towards the ship visible behind me. I spotted what may have been a small smirk.
“Yes dear boy, of course I would allow a fellow doctor such a simple courtesy. Right this way.” I followed again, sparing a moment to look for the exceedingly large bird – one would have thought that I might have noted such a large animal flying away – yet I hadn't.
We trekked past the cemetery into the dilapidated yard of the castle, past a large nest into a sweeping arch way. In the center of the archway, a door stood with a lone torch lit. The strange man rapped on the door with a heavyset bronze bat detail.
“Excuse me sir, but I remember you saying that you were a doctor?” The man huffed before uttering his reply “You might know me as Dr. Hogback”.
THE DOCTOR HOGBACK. Once again I was at a loss for words. This was the man who had found the cure to many diseases thought impossible! The man who saved countless lives. The man who performed miraculous surgeries, the world's dear ally! What was he doing on such a desolate island as this?
The clanking sound of the dead bolts could be heard as someone attempted to open the door. At what seemed to be the last lock, the door swung open slowly. A striking young woman with short golden hair, shapely hips, and a stitched body greeted us.
“Cindry dear!” the doctor exclaimed. His mood made a complete one-eighty, from gruff and hostile to pleasant and adoring. I entered the room along with Hogback to find a high vaulted, sparsely decorated chamber. The colors of the banners were grey and a delicate musk was wafting through the room. Ms. Cindry led the way into the elegant dining room and seated us at the table.
The doctor continued to accost the young lady, but she remained mute and reticent. When imploring her for the choice in dinner, she walked away abruptly. I took the chance to observe the furniture. Unlike the entrance hall, the dining room had more furnishings. Furs and rugs adorned the walls and while paintings were propped up regally on the ground. She returned a short while later with a pan of dark, fried something. She set a piece on the table in front of the doctor and I, and retired to the inner recesses of the castle. I stared at it with barely veiled disgust while Hogback exasperated.
“My Cindry does this all the time, you'll have to forgive me. She is still learning how to cook.” He proceeded to eat as if a dog would, without any plates or utensils to speak of. I inspected the offending matter closer, and discovered that it was not fried food, but rather coal. Dumbfounded, I made the motions of eating while simultaneously disposing of small chunks underneath the dining table. The doctor finished his “meal” before me, and rose from the table.
“I believe you may need to retire here for the night, dear boy. Please use any of the rooms on the second floor, but do not enter the third floor.” Not unlike his companion, he also retreated into the dark corridors. A shiver ran up my spine – with all the advances in his practice, what gross affliction made it so that even the genius doctor could not stitch himself up properly?
As a proper man, I disposed of the coal in the fireplace before making my way back into the entrance hall. I climbed the wooden staircase and spotted a vestige of the Doctor's coat on the third floor. Believing it to be a test of my will power, I dismissed it and entered the first room I could find, promptly going to bed.
A high pitched scream shocked me out of sleep; struggling to get my bearings I grabbed my doctor's bag while I rushed out of my room. I hurried towards the source of the noise, upstairs. Once I reached the third floor, I could hear a low moaning from a door near the end of the hallway. Making my way there, I nearly entered when I heard the rasping Dr. Hogback speak,
“Victoria dear, please do keep your voice down. We have a guest in the house. One more electrocution, and we should have your body running good as new. I'm going to have to dig up more bodies soon in order to replace your heart, maybe then you will be more willing to listen to my orders...”
Silence filled the air, and I felt a cold sensation creeping up my extremities.
“BOY” a thundering sound filled my heart. The light from the room filtered out into the hallway as the man stomped out, “What did I tell you! I told you to STAY OUT.”
I struggled for purchase as I crawled back, I hadn't even realized I had lost the use of my legs. He walked towards me deliberately, and as I glanced down at my feet, I found that the carpet rug had wrapped around my ankles and had been pulling me towards him. With a great heave, a whacked the carpet with my bag and scrambled up on my feet, not thinking to even glance back at the bizarre thing. If I had paid more attention, I would have noticed that it was not only the carpet rug becoming animated, but the picture frames and the rugs and every single furnishing inside the insidious castle. They all became elongated and alive, as if being fueled by the very fear running through my faint heart and veins. Run as I might, the staircase itself repositioned away from the door. With a great leap, I jumped the remaining twenty feet and threw open the door. I ran towards my ship, the way I came from. All around me, I could see the bodies of the dead rising up, making grabs. Only a little ways away, Dr. Hogback strolled out into the yard and stood there, watching.
The raven flew at me, causing me to trip. I struggled to even open my eyes, the dirt itself felt as if it were doused in alcohol. It burned. As I looked up at the gravestone, it read,
Here lies Doctor Hogback.