Fiction: The Improbable Case of the Were-Hydra

By Temperance D. Lamplighter, Laboratory Assistant, as related by Deborah L. Davitt
Art by Leigh Legler

The job posting that led me to apply for a position with Dr. Hieronymus H. Featherstone should have been warning enough. It alluded to long hours, unpaid overtime, and noted that a “flexible moral compass is a must.” However, the placement agency through which I was hired had excellent medical and dental benefits, not things to be sneered at, even if all treatment was required to be performed up at Gothic U’s medical center. So what if their procedures were highly experimental? I needed a paycheck and a root canal, more or less in that order.

The second warning was that, on being introduced to me, Dr. Featherstone took a liking to my first name. “Temperance! What a virtuous family you must come from. I should be glad you weren’t named Chastity, eh?” His white, furry eyebrows waggled in what he probably thought a very charming and roguish fashion.

“Chastity is my sister, doctor. As are Charity, Grace, Mercy, Modesty, Faith, and Prudence. Chastity is the youngest.” I added the last out of reflex. It probably wouldn’t do to note that Justice, Forbearance, Valor, Glory, Discretion, and Fortitude were our brothers. Mom’s name? Honesty. Dad? Wisdom.

It’s complicated.

He frowned. “Your family is … religious, then?” He said it as if we were afflicted with an intractable and hereditary condition.

“Not as such,” I replied, shrugging. “I trust that you will respect my circumspection with regards to them?”

He blinked. “Do you always talk like someone from the nineteenth century?”

People don’t usually notice that point so quickly. Mostly, they just assume I’m pompous or arrogant or condescending. While those are relatives from the far reaches of the family tree, I’m none of those. “I suppose it is preferable to sounding like someone from the Jacobean era, or perhaps earlier.”

Featherstone frowned. “I can’t imagine anyone naming their children this way without some sort of religious motive. And … so many of them.” His brows worked, as almost everyone’s did these days, with a kind of moral outrage that anyone should be so greedy as to have so many children.

Wisdom suggested I shouldn’t antagonize a prospective employer. Valor, however, wouldn’t permit me to take a meeker course. “Your parents named you Hieronymus, didn’t they?”

His eyebrows beetled. “Actually, they didn’t. I changed my name before taking my dissertation. No one would take me seriously as a scientist if I had a commonplace name like Henry, now would they?”

Forbearance got the better of Wit (second-cousin on my mother’s side), and I clamped down on my first several replies. “I suppose,” I replied noncommittally.

A hesitation. “You wouldn’t have problems working with a scientist?”

“Doctor, for full medical and dental, you could probably convince me to worship the Loch Ness Monster.”

“Hmm. Just make sure not to wear a cross if I send you over on an errand to the Thaumaturgy department,” Dr. Featherstone warned. “The demonology professors … well. There have been incidents, shall we say?”

He no longer seemed interested in my background, but decided, with a certain delight, to refer to me as “Temp.” Temp the Temp. Since I was supposed to be a permanent hire, this didn’t bode well. Nevertheless, the dental plan wouldn’t take effect until after the first ninety days, so I gritted my teeth (immediately regretting it, as my molars howled) and endured.

Yes, tails. All five of them, whipping like an old-fashioned scourge.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2019 collection.

Temperance D. Lamplighter is, at her best guess, between six to ten thousand years old, because prior to that, she says, humans didn’t have a concept of temperance, never having enough abundance of food, drink, companionship, or spare time in which to overindulge. As Virtues go, she says that she’s the Virtue of Nothing Very Much, but, conversely, rather enjoys being the Virtue of Almost Everything in Small Amounts. She and her brother Valor currently live at an undisclosed location somewhere in North America, working hard at staying alive in a world rife with mad scientists and apathetic humans.

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son.  Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and Pseudopod. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels and her forthcoming poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

“The Improbable Case of the Were-Hydra” is © 2019 Deborah L. Davitt
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler

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