Knowing that the kind of relationship his heart longs for is forbidden by the laws of Victorian England, college student Gray Langley fights his loneliness by throwing himself into his studies and his artwork. One gloomy afternoon, he is out sketching a graveyard when he meets Dr. Arthur Striker, a man who seems to share Gray’s scandalous desires. Though Gray is encouraged when Arthur seems to return his feelings, he is unnerved by the scientific experiments Arthur seems to be conducting in his home. Even more frightening is the strange and violent madman who appears and tries to kill him whenever he and Arthur get close. And why does his attacker look exactly like Arthur?
“Surely we must be cautious in such matters,” he said after a moment of fumbling with his tea. “The idea that we might one day be able to control nature is intoxicating, I grant you, but the potential for disaster exists as well.”
“Does it? I cannot image how gaining mastery over death could be anything but beneficial to humankind.” Arthur’s voice had risen in excitement. He seemed about to say more, but abruptly closed his mouth and took a long, calming swallow of tea. Afterward he became quite casual again, as though they had been discussing nothing more controversial than a cricket match. “However, it is simply a theory at present. We shall see what, if anything, comes of it.”
When the tea ran out after a few more awkward minutes, Gray thanked him and stood to go. Arthur accompanied him to the front door with obvious reluctance.
“Will you come again, Mr. Langley? I enjoyed our talk.” Arthur paused to rub his forehead. “I fear I spend too much time alone. It is a relief to discuss my work.”
“If you want me to. But please, call me Gray. I think of Mr. Langley as my father.”
“Of course. And I must be Arthur to you. A bit unconventional, perhaps, but I have never been a stickler for ceremony. Will you come for dinner tomorrow…if the college can spare you?”
“Very well. Perhaps afterward, we might enjoy some music together. You may find your work less of a burden if you spent more time on leisurely pursuits like the piano. Such things have a habit of clearing the mind—much as I find sketching does for me.”
“The piano?” Arthur paused, his expression alarmed. “I’m afraid I play hardly at all, and not well.”
“I beg to differ. I confess heard you playing as I came up the walk.” Gray strategically omitted the fact that he had been staring in the window. However, he felt sure Veronique had seen him, so he thought it best to make at least a partial admission. “You’re quite skilled—from what little I could hear, I mean.”
“No, no. Not I. Your ears were playing tricks.” Arthur’s confident smile returned. “The walls and windows distorted the sound of my bashings. In any case, come tomorrow at six. I look forward to it.”
Gray did not care to argue the point, but he found himself puzzled as he walked off again. Arthur’s attitude was peculiar Perhaps he didn’t care to play in front of people. And he would not be the first artist of any sort to think less of his talents than others did.
When he had gone a short distance from the house, he again heard a few notes on the piano. This time, they came out slow and disconnected, as though someone were practicing instead of playing. The sound was as cacophonous as it had previously been melodic.
The music soon stopped again, and Gray glanced back at the house. This time he spotted Arthur in an upstairs window, standing as still as a statue. At least, he presumed it was Arthur. The distance and shadows made it impossible to tell. Then he saw a smaller figure—Veronique, no doubt—push Arthur out of the way and pull the curtains shut.
He spent the rest of his long walk home worrying about Arthur. Clearly, he was dedicated and no doubt brilliant in his chosen vocation, but his overt zeal made Gray nervous. He had heard tales of professors at his college, some of them geniuses or nearly so, who had driven themselves mad with odd fancies and bizarre types of research.
Another unpleasant thought struck him, too. Arthur had mentioned that he worked with potions—was he trying them out on himself? That seemed unsafe in the extreme and might seem to support Lucien’s theory that Arthur had been stumbling about intoxicated.
That night Gray’s dreams troubled him. He twisted and turned, sweating and gasping for air. In his nightmare, he was standing not outside the window, but inside the tiny parlor with the piano. One minute, Arthur was playing and smiling normally. In the next, he took his hands from the keys and swiveled around on the stool. Gray saw that Arthur was wearing the necklace made of shells from the consulting room. He was about to ask why when Arthur’s his eyes turned dark and cold—as though he had gone soulless. Then he parted his lips to reveal sharp, beastlike teeth smeared with blood.