Derry’s Down, Deary

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Alison Reeger Cook

Photo Credit: Robert Parviainen


Owl went missing two weeks ago. Normally, Pussycat wouldn’t worry about him; Owl could take care of himself, and sometimes he landed jobs that would make him vanish for days. But he had never been gone this long, and Pussycat’s intuition screeched in her ears that something wicked had befallen him.

That was the nature of the game, of course. Assassins for hire could disappear just as easily as their targets, but Owl and Pussycat were the best in the business. Their aliases were whispered with reverence and fear throughout the underbelly of London; if there was a hit that was judged impossible by every other cutthroat in the city, Owl and Pussycat could get the job done. That also meant there was competition who would love to snuff out the deadly duo, and one rival had attempted to do so. After pieces of him were delivered to other hit men as a warning, no one had pursued the pair since.

But this was different. When Owl and Pussycat were together, they were untouchable. Apart, Pussycat could only imagine what traps were set for her partner. She owed much to Owl—he had swept her up from the streets, taken in a poor mangy girl with no family or home, and rescued her from the workhouse or the brothel. He was the only one who ever made her smile, playing silly songs on his guitar, pilfering little trinkets to bring back to her, teaching her all the “most fashionable” dances—not that they’d ever attend any public affair at which they could dance.

When Owl didn’t come home after five days, Pussycat began prowling every dank and dreary cesspool of London to get a lead on where he was last spotted. After a week-and-a-half of dead ends and false tips, desperation led her to an underworld barkeep named “Snout” Robinson—not an ironic name by any means. He was a bloated boar of a man, with piggish eyes and a gold ring in his nose.

“Yeah, I’s seen ‘im,” Snout said. “Few weeks ago. Seemed off ‘is box, almost sick-like. But he left me somethin’, said someone might come lookin’ for ‘im and to give it to ‘er. Seein’ you’s the only one come askin’ for ‘im, I’d guess he meant you.”

Snout handed over a leather purse to Pussycat, who instantly recognized it as Owl’s. She pocketed the purse and turned to leave.

“Missy…” Snout lowered his voice. “I’ve heard rumors, maybe I’m not supposed to be tellin’. The Morbids may’ve gotten to ‘im.”

Hot pinpricks stabbed at Pussycat’s skin as the dreaded “M” word echoed in her ears. Owl had warned her about the Morbids. They were relentless. They were undetectable. Once they targeted you, you were gone. No matter how sly you were, no matter how far you’d run, the Morbids would find you.

But no, it couldn’t happen to Owl. She gave Snout a dark glare before she exited to the safety of the night’s black shroud. Inside Owl’s purse were two items. The first was a scrap of paper that had been torn from a book. Upon it read:

There was an Old Man of New York,
Who murdered himself with a fork;
But nobody cried—
Though he very soon died—
For that silly Old Man of New York.

The other object she stuffed into her coat pocket and rubbed its cool, smooth surface repeatedly over the following days. She massaged it in her palm as she stowed away on a merchant boat to America; she held it as she hid in a crate and was carried onto the docks by the unaware ship crew; she held it as she wandered the grungy streets of New York City, sniffing out any clues as to the “Old Man” indicated in that ridiculous poem, or any clues to finding Owl.

The object was a silver spoon with the word “Runcible” engraved on the handle. For some reason, Pussycat had a feeling that her life, and Owl’s, depended on that spoon.


“May I help you, deary?”

Pussycat looked over the woman at the counter of the antique shop. She was squat and stout, with a chin wattle that embraced her neck like a python. Her hair—what was left of it—was decayed red, straggly wisps framing the pink prune that was her face.

“Are you Madam Runcible?” Pussycat asked.

The woman chuckled. “No, I’m afraid not. My great-uncle, Irvin Runcible, was the original owner of this shop, but he passed away long ago. My name is Eliza Narragansett, but you may call me Ellie. May I help you find something?”

Pussycat narrowed her eyes on the woman. Even sweet, harmless old ladies could prove to be otherwise. Who knew whom the Morbids—if they indeed had a hand in Owl’s disappearance—employed to spy for them. Rumor was, the Morbids had eyes, ears, and fingers everywhere, not just in England. But this was the only place in all of New York City that carried the name Runcible—Runcible’s Antiques and Home Wares—and she was growing desperate for clues. She withdrew the spoon from her pocket and placed it on the counter.

The woman looked over the spoon. A look of bewilderment crossed her face. “Oh my, the spoon from the original Runcible wedding dinner set! My great-uncle had twenty pure silver place settings custom made for his bride and his wedding guests. Only one of the place settings had the Runcible name engraved in the silverware, for my great-aunt. How did you—”

“Do you have the other silverware that goes with this?” The limerick from Owl’s purse began a haunting chant in her mind. “Do you have the knife, or the… fork?”

Ellie scratched her chins. “A close friend of mine acquired the whole set from to the Runcible estate auction, when the Runcible sons went bankrupt. Paid a pretty penny for it. That’s why I’m surprised you have the spoon. Although it would be like Derry to buy something expensive, only to lose it or give it away. How did you come by it?”

Pussycat kept a cool expression, despite her temptation to pounce on the woman to strangle the information out of her. “My brother is a business partner of Derry’s. Derry let him have it to bring home to me. I collect rare silverware. That’s why I would like the rest of the set. Do you have Mr. Derry’s address, so I can pay him a visit? My brother has been out on business, and I cannot reach him to inquire about Mr. Derry’s homestead.”

“I dare say, Derry doesn’t much like surprise guests, but I’m sure he’d enjoy a little company. Poor man’s alone so much. Use to be such a happy man…” Ellie shuffled through a counter drawer, taking out a pen and paper and scratching out a list of directions. “He lives right above the Bong Tree Café, down on 55th Street. Try the turkey-and-pea soup. Put a little meat on your bones.”


Pussycat waited patiently until the owner of the Bong Tree Café closed the restaurant and locked the door behind him, then she made her way to the entrance that led up to the second floor apartments. She ascended the staircase with soundless footsteps, to the apartment number noted in Ellie’s directions. On the doorframe was a worn nameplate, “D.D. Derry.” She knocked, and then wrapped her fingers around the pistol tucked into her belt. For all she knew, she was walking right into a snare. No one answered. She reached into her boot, plucking out a lockpick. She jimmied the door easily, and stepped into a dark space that carried familiar smells—familiar to her line of work, that is.

There was an oil lantern sitting on a table at the far end of the room. Pistol at the ready, she crept across the apartment, and picked up the lantern. She intensified its flame, and held it before her as she scanned the room in the soft yellow light. There wasn’t much: a settee, a dining table, a bookshelf, an armchair… with someone in it.

The chair faced away from Pussycat, but she could see the hand resting on the chair’s arm. She heard a faint melody coming from the chair, like someone humming.

She aimed her pistol at the chair. “You, in the chair. Move one inch, and you’re a dead man. You’re going to tell me what I need to know. Got it?”

The chair’s occupant didn’t answer. The humming continued.

“I’m talking to you!” Pussycat stepped towards the chair. “Do you own a Runcible fork? Or can I skip ahead, and ask what you know of my missing partner? He gave me the spoon. It led me to you. Start talking!”

By now, she was three feet from the chair. The humming was, in fact, soft singing, and she could make out the words:

There was an Old Derry down Derry, who loved to see little folks merry…

“Are you deaf? I am two seconds from spilling your brains—”

So he made them a book, and with laughter they shook at the fun of that Derry down Derry…

Pussycat leapt in front of the chair, cocking the trigger of her pistol and pointing it straight at the singer. She stopped cold at the sight of a withering man, with full-moon spectacles set before tired eyes. The wrinkles of his face implied this was once a man who laughed, and sang, and smiled, but now had sunken into moroseness…

A silver fork, with the word “Runcible” engraved in the handle, was sticking out of the red, sticky pool in his chest.

It was not the first time that Pussycat had seen a bloody body, of course. It wasn’t the first time she had seen self-mutilation, or even death by fork. But as the man continued to chant, as the life-wine dribbled down his front, she felt a sickness well up inside of her that made her drop her pistol.

This wasn’t suicide. There was something unseen at work here. This was… morbid.

She approached the bleeding man, placing her fingertips on his cold, bony hand. “Mr. Derry, can you hear me?”

The glazed eyes wandered up towards Pussycat. The lips paused, and then a dusty, creaking sound came from Derry’s throat. “Oooooooowl…”

“Owl? Where is he? Did the Morbids do this to you?”

Derry’s eyes fell. “I was… his happiness. I… was the part of him… the Morbids couldn’t touch. The songs, the poems, the paintings… it drove back the Morbids. But they became too strong… they took the songs, they took the stories… but they had no use of me…”

Pussycat was losing her patience. “I don’t understand. Why are the Morbids doing this? Who are they? Tell me. I can find them. I can kill them.”

Derry shook his head. “The Morbids… are… sadness. His sadness. They have… overtaken… him. Once they have him, they have the rest of us.”

“Who’s ‘him’? You said something about poems. Owl left me a poem, about an Old Man from New York. Do you know that poem? Who wrote it? Is that who you’re talking about?”

Derry sunk deeper into the chair, or perhaps he was shrinking. “He went by my name… I was the side of him he never wanted to let go. But he was the real one. I was… just… the shadow. Find the man… who has my name… but it is not his true name…”

“You’re not making any sense!”

Derry suddenly looked at Pussycat. An unsettling smile cracked his face. “Exactly… it’s nonsense… that you’re looking for…”

There was scratching at the windows.

There was clawing from beneath the floor.

There was a suffocating sorrow dripping down from the ceiling.

Pussycat knew the Morbids were there. They were there for her. She shoved her hand into her pocket, grasping at the silver spoon, thinking of Owl and his singing and his dancing and the way he always made her laugh, and laugh, and laugh…


Two months later she was in San Remo on the Mediterranean coast, in the Villa Tennyson. She stood at the foot of a bed, staring at a man wasting away beneath the sheets, a man who looked so much like Mr. Derry, except older, and grayer, and sadder. She had tracked him down after searching for the author who had for years gone by the pseudonym Derry Down Derry. Somehow, the name Edward Lear didn’t sound half as charming.

Lear stared up at the ceiling, hands folded over his chest. Pussycat had heard gossip in town that Lear was suffering from a heart disease. It only made it easier for the Morbids to do their work on him.

“Mr. Lear, did the Morbids take Owl?”

Lear was still.

“Have the Morbids killed him? Or is he still alive?’

Lear sighed. Very quietly, he breathed into the stillness, “An Owl and a Pussycat… they went out to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat…

Pussycat felt an intense pang of grief.

They sailed away, for a year and a day, to the land where the Bong Tree grows…

“Mr. Lear, I read your story about us. About Owl and me. We’re supposed to be together. I think, even if the Morbids take us, we won’t die. So, if you would…”

They dined on mince, and slices of quince…

“Let the Morbids take me.”

Lear stopped.

“Let them take me. Because they’ll take me to where they took Owl. I want to be with Owl, Mr. Lear. Even if it means sadness overtakes us, at least we’ll be sad together. Being sad together is better than being sad alone.”

The quiet lingered a moment longer. Lear tilted his head towards the foot of the bed. There was no one there.

He smiled. He laid his head back down. He closed his eyes, whispering:

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”


Alison Reeger Cook is the book reviewer for the Gainesville Times in Northeast Georgia. Her first young adult novel is The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx (Knox Robinson Publishing, 2013). In 2011, she placed Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition for her play “Major Arcana,” and in WD’s Science Fiction contest for short story “Psycho Babbles.” She currently works at Peachtree Publishers, a children’s picture book publisher, as a trade show and literary conference coordinator. She likes sushi and sundaes (but not together). Email: imaginalchemy[at]

In the Garden Where Monsters Grow

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Alison Reeger Cook

Naturally dyed eggs
Photo Credit: Tarehna Wicker

Cudwad cast his gaze back and forth among the various embryos that hung like morbid glass ornaments from the thorny vines. “Uh, which one am I looking for?” he called.

Gnawbone sighed irritably. “The salamander. The blue one with the bright red fringes.”

Cudwad finally found the one that he had been sent to harvest, a cobalt blue creature that looked more insect than amphibian, and with gentle, gloved hands, he plucked it free of the Mothervines. “Found it. What does this one do again?”

“Burns memories. Drowns lost children.” Gnawbone grinned slightly. “Bites idiots.”

Cudwad furrowed his brow, and looked down at the peacefully sleeping beast. “I still can’t get over how Lady Nightmare grows all these… things. I mean, she doesn’t seem very motherly or welcoming… but she ‘loves’ all these monsters.”

Gnawbone shrugged. “You’re trying to apply human tendencies to Lady Nightmare. Don’t worry, once the Taint absorbs into your blood a little while longer, it’ll make more sense to you.”

The young boy—although, not much longer would he be a human one—glanced at the veins showing through the skin of his arms. Already they were several shades greener than they had been the day before. He had also noticed that morning that his ears were a bit pointier at the tips, and his once-blue eyes were slowly shifting to a moon-silver. It was pretty cool.

It was also necessary.

Without the Taint, no normal being could be in the garden for long—not before the poisonous spores, or the mind-rot fumes, or the plentiful carnivorous insects that were drawn to untainted blood would do them in. The garden itself was an embodiment of Lady Nightmare’s soul, or lack thereof.

Cudwad cradled the salamander, biting his lip. “Do you think she’d let me keep one, sometime?”

“Keep… one of these? For what, a pet?” Gnawbone laughed. “Just do your job, Cud. No one bends the lady’s rules here.” He pulled back the shaggy white hair by his left temple, showing the deep scars there. “And this was from her being mildly irked, and not for anything I did.”

Cudwad gulped, but then spotted something at Gnawbone’s feet. “Careful, there’s a tiny one right there.”

“Where?” Gnawbone looked down at the spot Cudwad pointed to, and then he bent down and picked up a dull, yellowish egg that fit comfortably in his palm. “Odd, this wasn’t here this morning. And there haven’t been any other layings today.”

“Ooooh, do you think something else laid it here?” Cudwad, still cradling the salamander in one arm, reached out for the yellow egg with his free hand. “If it’s not Lady Nightmare’s, then I can have it! Please, don’t tell her it’s here. I’ll take good care of it. It’s probably just a regular old bird. She’ll just feed it to the monsters if she finds it. Please please please, let me have it.”

Gnawbone scratched his chin, looking the egg over. “Hmm, you know, I bet I could pawn this off as a phoenix egg… I could get some good money for this at the Charmers’ Market.”

“No, don’t sell it! Give it to me!”

“I’m older than you, so I get first pick of—”

The arguing, of course, woke up the salamander in Cudwad’s arm. Waking a fire salamander should be a slow, careful process, lest you anger the poor thing. Being jostled about in Cudwad’s arm with all that yelling going on was not a good way to awaken a salamander for the first time, proven by the fact that he coughed up a ball of acid before he squirmed out of Cud’s grasp and slithered away among the tangled Mothervines.

The sudden attack by the salamander caused Gnawbone to drop the yellow egg in surprise… right into the pool of acid that the salamander had belched up on the ground.

The two caretakers watched, petrified, as the shell of the egg began to melt in the acid, and it peeled back to reveal something unlike anything they could have ever expected to come from such a tiny, unassuming egg. In other words, it was definitely not a bird… not a reptile or amphibian… not even a monster, which would have been a more pleasant alternative.

“Cud…” For the first time that Cudwad had ever seen, Gnawbone blanched as pale as Death’s horse. “Cud, run…”


“Which one of you found that egg?”

Cudwad shivered at the sound of Lady Nightmare’s voice. Its chill made the dead of winter seem like a mild, sunny spring. Her sickly green gaze was just as icy, set in a face that was as rigid and flawless as a porcelain mask. Hers was a venomous beauty, a beguiling toxicity.

Gnawbone stood calmly beside Cudwad, although the younger boy could sense the stiffness in his coworker’s stance. “I picked up the egg first, madam. It is my responsibility.”

Lady Nightmare narrowed her eyes on Gnawbone, and then shifted her eyes to Cudwad. “Who saw the egg first, Cudwad?”

Gnawbone put a hand on Cudwad’s shoulder, a gesture to still him, but Lady Nightmare’s influence was more intimidating. Cudwad cautiously raised his hand.

“That’s what I thought.”

Lady Nightmare cast him a gentle smile—the kind that ripples through one’s skin like tiny, writhing snakes—and approached him. “You are a very lucky boy. You found the egg of a leucrocotta, a very rare creature. I haven’t had one in my garden since… well, long enough ago to say almost never.” She brushed aside a few hairs from Cudwad’s forehead tenderly. “Naturally, anyone would want to bond with such a special monster—” She shot a piercing stare towards Gnawbone, who dropped his gaze from her. “—but only the one who sees the egg first can form a bond with the leucrocotta. It wanted to be found by you.”

“So… so it’s mine?” Cudwad felt a surge of excitement in his chest.

Lady Nightmare’s smile twisted slightly, almost as if there was some unspoken joke she was musing over. “Yes, it has chosen you. You will tend to it, and prepare it to permanently bond with you. We should go discuss it.” She put a sinewy arm around Cudwad to lead him away to a secluded parlor, while Gnawbone watched them go, his mind racing in a silent frenzy.


Cudwad found it odd that Lady Nightmare put him on a strict diet of a special curry dish that she prepared solely for him at every meal. He also found it odd that when he attempted to read up about leucrocottas in the bestiaries in the Nightmare Library, the entries had been blacked out with thick blotches of ink. Lastly—and he hadn’t realized it until some time afterward—he was more easily irritable towards Gnawbone, especially when the older boy said, “You don’t have to take care of that leucrocotta just because she said you should, you know.”

“You’re just saying that because you wanted it to choose you instead!” Cudwad would retort. “And you don’t like that Lady Nightmare’s giving me so much attention, and has forgotten about you. Well, too bad! Just go away if you don’t like it!”

When Gnawbone did walk away, and shut himself up somewhere for several hours, only then did it dawn on Cudwad how nasty he had been to his friend.

One evening, while Cudwad was tending the garden, a sudden chill—no, this was a blistering fire—crawled over his skin as Lady Nightmare appeared from nowhere with frightening speed. Without a word, she grasped his face, turning it from side to side, gazing deeply into his eyes, rubbing his pointed ears and checking his wrists, where she could see the deep green pulsing in his veins. Cudwad was startled, yet some new voice in his mind said, “Don’t question your mistress. Make sure she is pleased.”

After a moment, Lady Nightmare released him. “You haven’t been in my cabinets, have you?”

Cudwad blinked perplexedly, and shook his head. He, as well as Gnawbone and any others in her employment, had always been forbidden to go into Lady Nightmare’s cabinets, which housed the various ingredients for her exotic concoctions.

She let out a long breath. “I would appear to be missing a bottle of powdered griffin feather that is very expensive. No one is allowed to borrow anything from my collection, understood?”

Cudwad nodded quickly. But a churning was already twisting his guts, as he could imagine where that bottle could be. Probably already sold at the Charmers’ Market, with Gnawbone having gathered a plentiful price for it. In fact, Cudwad hadn’t seen Gnawbone at all since that last time he yelled at him. He hadn’t bought a ticket to run away somewhere, had he? Cudwad suddenly felt such a sharp pang of loneliness, even the thought of his upcoming bonding with his leucrocotta couldn’t cheer him up.


The next evening, Lady Nightmare summoned Cudwad to her parlor.

“Is it time to bond with my leucrocotta?” Cudwad asked. “I hope I can do it correctly. I tried to research about leucrocottas this week, but I couldn’t find—”

“It’s quite all right,” Lady Nightmare replied. “I’ve prepared you well enough. It’s time for my leucrocotta to have his sacred feeding.”

Cudwa tilted his head. “But… I don’t know what it would…” The realization smacked Cudwad like a dragon’s tail to the face. “I thought you said I would bond with it—”

“And you will. A leucrocotta must eat the first living creature that finds its egg in order to grow into the magnificent beast it will become. More importantly, in order for me to have its undying loyalty, its first meal must be saturated in my Obedience spices.”

Cudwad thought of all the curry dishes he had been eating that past week.

“And since you have been eating those spices, you can’t oppose my orders,” Lady Nightmare added. “Now go out into the garden and let my leucrocotta eat you. I’m sure it’s quite hungry.”

Fear festered in Cudwad’s chest and gut like acid burn, but he couldn’t argue. He couldn’t resist, or run, or cry. His feet moved without his permission and that new voice in his head said, “You heard the lady. Go outside and get eaten before she gets impatient.”

His mind could only go blank as he walked out into the ghoulish garden, past the hanging embryos, past the frightful fruits, searching out the creature that he had wanted to be his own so desperately.

And he found it. Lying still, dead, on the ground.

Next to it lay an equally still and lifeless Gnawbone. Only it wasn’t Gnawbone—or, it was, but not the white-haired, blood-Tainted boy Cudwad knew. This Gnawbone had brown hair, normal peach-colored skin, and even appeared a bit frail. In his right hand was an empty bottle; a few flakes of some golden powder were scattered on the ground. His left hand was completely gone, the wrist a bloody bitten-off stump. That same red, sticky blood laced the leucrocotta’s pale lips.

It would take Cudwad some time to process it, but the answer eventually came. Gnawbone had taken the bottle of powdered griffin feather from Lady Nightmare’s cabinet, a powder designed to cure any and all poisons or diseases, including the Taint. After relieving himself of the Taint, he had gone into the garden to find the leucrocotta as quickly as he could—after all, he was human again, and would not be able to live in the garden for long. But once the leucrocotta bit off and ate his hand, it would have attained the same un-Tainted state of being that Gnawbone had—in the same way it would have soaked up the obedience spices that Cudwad had eaten. Without that Taint that the garden would have given it, the leucrocotta must have succumbed to the poisonous spores or fumes and died.

And Gnawbone did all this… to save me. He knew what Lady Nightmare was planning for me, Cudwad realized. But his sadness was drowned out by that voice saying, “What are you going to do? She ordered you to be eaten… but it’s dead! What will you do now?” Cudwad paused, before his old voice—the one raging like an inferno right now—replied, “She wanted me to bond with the leucrocotta. The way I see it, there’s only one way to do that now…”


After waiting a few days for the obedience spices to wear off—and after struggling to wolf down a good share of leucrocotta meat, unsure whether or not the meat was toxic—Cudwad returned to Lady Nightmare’s parlor with a newly-grown set of leucrocotta teeth in his mouth, curved claws on his hands, and a ravenous desire to hunt a fresh nightmare…


Alison Reeger Cook is the book reviewer for the Gainesville Times in Northeast Georgia. She also writes novels, her first being published by Knox Robinson Publishing in May 2013, and her ten minute play “In the Cards” was published by Heuer Publishing, Inc. In October 2010, she was chosen for Honorable Mention in Writers’ Journal magazine for her short story, “When the Bottle is Lost.” In 2011, she was awarded Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition for her stage play, “Major Arcana,” and Honorable Mention in WD‘s Science Fiction contest for short story, “Psycho Babbles.” Email: areegercook[at]