The 1827 Great Plague of Edinburgh originated above a small bakery at 150 Dundas Street. Half the city perished. The other half fled. Outsiders discovered six strange specimens in the chaotic quarters above the bakery: a still-runny nose; a shard of glass; a dead mouse; a bloody eyeball; a severed ear and an infected foot. Only later, when they found a man's body in the ruins on Inchcolm Island, did they finally fathom the curious tale of a cuckoo called Roth and the Plague he created. His notebook told them everything...
Professor Rothesay opens his window at 150 Dundas Street and inhales the squalid air. Edinburgh on All Hallows' Eve in 1827 is not a place to walk alone. The spirits of lost souls stagger down the hill before skimming the Forth and fleeing northwards. In the eaves above, bats prepare for flight. Being human feels so limiting. There must be a better way. Ten years of secret experiments and symptoms. Tonight is the night. He can feel it in his bones.
Roth pushes some cake crumbs into the bell jar where his two mice live. It helps to have some life in here on the futile, grey days. Besides, experimenting on himself is the only way to be sure of the real extent of his genius. He holds tonight's test tube to candlelight. A kaleidoscopic shift inside the glass. Peculiar. He uncorks and breathes hungrily. The vapour makes his whole body convulse. He sneezes with such force that his left eyeball pops from its socket. Most unfortunate! Roth staggers, still clutching his test tube, and regards the black void where his left eye used to be. No time to dwell on such minor setbacks. Retrieving the eyeball is of utmost importance; it's his greatest evidence yet.
He rarely bleeds anymore. He's astonished to see blood dripping from the chandelier, where his eyeball perches, threatening to fall. What's more, the chandelier, too precarious to be functional, has chosen this moment to give up the ghost. Roth is frantic for something to stand on. The wooden haberdashery? A gift from Burke and Hare, hauled out from Surgeon's Hall, not a moral between them. He really keeps the worst company. There's a party later. Mary King's Close, the depths of rot. Roth contemplates the distance from the haberdashery to the eyeball and involuntarily wails.
Everything OK?" Madame Sarjoo pounds on her tenant's door. The chandelier trembles and the eyeball wobbles. Madame persists. "You've got vermin in there, haven't you! I've warned you. Contrary to the word on The Mile, I do have some standards!" She turns the key. It's enough. The chandelier plummets, chiming a slow motion soundtrack to Roth's misery as his eyeball drops. He lets his test tube fall. It seems inevitable now: the end of everything. He tries to dodge but the chandelier skims his head, slicing his ear clean off. Of course it does. Roth laughs a manic howl.
One mouse dies instantly, decapitated. Half blind and half deaf, Roth watches with horror, as the other mouse takes a long drink from the shattered test tube. The mutation begins.
"You'll clean this up, yes?" barks Madame Sarjoo, unfazed. They don't call her half hanged Maggie for nothing. A woman who survived her own public execution. Behind her, Doctor Savage appears. He leans against the door. "Sarj, you're right. He's absolutely cuckoo!"
Roth finds his feet. If his calculations are correct, he has exactly thirty one seconds before mutation is complete. He's planned his escape. If he can make it to the tunnel, he'll be at Waverley in no time, head through the sewers to the open sea. There's no reason to believe he couldn't be the sole survivor. Someone to write it all down when the time comes. His eye and his ear? Minor setbacks. Besides, it is Hallowe'en in Edinburgh. No-one will even look twice.
Madame Sarjoo and Doctor Savage watch, bemused, as their reclusive tenant lurches into the stairway and out of sight. They survey his makeshift lab. "I always thought he was an artist," Sarjoo says, with disdain.
"You're not afraid of mice, then," jokes Doctor Savage, taking a draw on his pipe.
Madame Sarjoo glances down. The escaped mouse is boring a hole in her foot at an alarming rate. Sarj has a sudden glint in her eye. A sick swirl of nebulous infection is beginning to replace the brown of her eyes as the plague takes residence in her body. "My dear," she leers, as her skin begins to blister and boil. "I'm not afraid of anything."
Grab your slice of history with our macabre souvenir to the lost secrets of Professor Rothesay and the failed Dundas Street experiment of 1827. Genius or maniac, ghost or freak, unarguably cuckoo, his spirit lives on in our Halloween cakes.