them knew quite what to do—one minute they’d been
working through a differential diagnosis and the next, they’d
been . . .
A creepy looking man in a pinstripe suit bounced in first, followed by
one dressed in what looked like a monk’s habit. Neither of
particularly healthy; they each had dark circles around their eyes, and
pallor generally found on the terminally ill. Then two children stepped
a Goth version of Hansel and Gretel— that is, if Hansel had
wore a horizontally striped shirt and if Gretel had tight braids and
a stark black dirndl.
Behind them came a cadaverous man so tall he had to stoop to pass
Diagnostic office door. He stood at the rear of the group, looking like
keeper of gargoyles.
The leader of this unhealthy company, the pinstriped man, stood in the
of the diagnostic office and looked at House, his eyes gleaming with
maniac cheer. He puffed his cigar and spoke up, waving his
“You must be House—you match Lisa’s
description perfectly: Cranky-looking
bastard with a cane!”
“Excuse me—“ Foreman began, starting to
rise. A low growl rumbled out and
took everyone a second to realize it came from the gaunt giant in the
the group. Foreman froze and sat down again. The menacing
Once more the pinstriped man spoke up, moving over to the whiteboard
clean the diagnosis there. House glared at him, tugging the eraser
hand. The other man grinned, taking no offense.
“Come on old man, Lisa said you were the best—if
anyone can figure out why
is smoking more than usual it’s you.”
“Lisa? You mean Doctor Cuddy? Who the hell ARE you
Von Crap family?”
“Good one! No, The Von Craps are vacationing in Tia Carumba
Addams, and this is the rest of my crowd—Fester, Pugsley
Wednesday, and the
big fellow’s Lurch.”
“Great. Get out,” House snarled. Gomez flashed his
white teeth once more.
Wednesday and Pugsley darted over to the whiteboard and began
game of hangman. Chase, Cameron and Foreman all stared
helplessly at each other
and House picked up his cane, swinging it
“Listen Mr. Addams, I don’t know what Doctor Cuddy
told you, but I don’t
cases on a walk-in basis, capice?”
“This is different—we’re
family,” Gomez announced.
“Not MY family, God forbid,” House snapped.
“No, no, Lisa’s. She’s my second
cousin’s niece,” came the sunny
“In fact I’m surprised she hasn’t
mentioned us before.”
“I’m not,” Chase whispered to Cameron.
House paused a moment and let his
wander over each member, and he cocked his head. On the
children had added circling buzzards to the game.
Gomez spoke again, this time looking slightly sad. “My wife,
Tish, is smoking
more than usual. She keeps setting off the detectors all over the
Foreman sighed softly. “House’s going to take the
case. Look at him.”
“What case?” Cameron finally found her voice.
“If the man’s wife is smoking,
all she needs to do is cut down on the cigarettes.”
“Oh Tish doesn’t smoke cigarettes. She just . . .
smokes,” Fester smiled at
Cameron in a totally disarming way. “From her head
“Mostly,” Gomez agreed, looking slightly
lascivious. “In any case I’m prepared
to pay whatever’s necessary to put you on her case, House.
Money is no
“She smokes?” House repeated, his brows drawing
together. Then he reached
and plucked the markers away from Wednesday and Pugsley. He filled
hangman word: EVISCERATE and bared his teeth at the children;
took a step
House looked over at Gomez and gave a slow nod. “Clear out.
gift shop or take the kiddies to the morgue while the minions and I
rune stones here and see what I can come up with.”
“Atta quack!” Gomez clapped House’s
shoulder in a broad gesture of support.
turned and beamed at the rest of his family. “Come on kids,
let’s see if we
can’t pick up a few trocar buttons as
As quickly as they’d piled in they left, Lurch ducking his
head cautiously as
he passed through the doorway. As they moved down the hall and out of
House thoughtfully added a few details to the hangman and spoke over
shoulder. “She smokes from her head. Not your common
“Not unless you’re Joan of Arc,” Chase
agreed. Foreman shook his head
“I really think it’s a bad idea to take the case,
House. The husband walks in
here and presents us with a single symptom, no history, no
“Chase, nab whatever records Mrs. Addams has. Cameron, I want
you and Foreman
to take a complete history of the woman.”
The three of them paused for a moment; finally Cameron cleared her
“What about our patient Mr. Baynard? The one we were in the
the Addams came in?”
“Him? He’s got vasculitis—I was just
making you go through the motions,”
muttered, heading for the door.
Out in the hall House headed purposefully for Cuddy’s office,
working up a
righteous indignation with every lurching stride. He pushed his way
office and looked around. Guiltily Cuddy was pulling on her lab coat.
“You.” He growled. Cuddy lifted her chin.
“I’m late for clinic, House—“
she tried to bluff. He reached out and caught her
wrist, long fingers circling it tightly.
“Screw clinic,” he told her impatiently.
“What I want to know is why you sent
the family of a patient to see me personally.”
She glared at his grip on her wrist then looked up at him and sighed.
didn’t have the heart to tell my aunt’s second
cousin NO, especially since he
did help put me through Med school. Besides, I figured you’d
either tell them
off, or take the case, and either way it would be over.”
“So because all of a sudden you’re totally passive
aggressive when it comes
your dysfunctional family you want ME to do your dirty work!”
“They’re not dysfunctional, they’re just
. . . different!” Cuddy snapped. “And
before you brush the case off you might want to see the file, okay? I
claim my uncle Gomez and aunt Morticia are your average everyday
all-American family. I know they’re a bit unusual, but aside
something genuinely a little off with my aunt, and since
diagnostician, that does put the ball in your court!”
House scowled. “Different? Is that how you describe them?
You’ve got an
with Grave’s disease, a pair of third cousins with
of childhood, a bald adrenalin addict and cadaver
clearly got Marfan’s
Cuddy worked her jaw a little, both surprised and annoyed; finally
“Got it all figured out then, hmmm? Then my aunt Morticia
“Smoking from the head is a little harder,” House
admitted grudgingly. “So
we’re going to go see her, and then we’re going to
check out the family vault
to see if she plays with any dangerous embalming chemicals.”
“We?” Cuddy accused. House rolled his eyes.
They looked in the glass wall of the room, towards the woman on the
bed. She was sitting up, pale and languid, her straight dark hair
parted and hanging to her shoulders. Her piercing eyes took them in
calmly. House scowled.
“She’s wearing black.”
“Nightgown from home,” Cuddy murmured.
“She’s on black sheets,” House groused.
“Designer sheets. SILK sheets.”
“Privilege of wealth, at the moment,” Cuddy sighed.
“I did mention they’re rich,
House turned to look at Cuddy speculatively. “How
She smiled dangerously in return. “Rich enough to call Bill
underpaid little computer geek’ and mean it. Be polite,
that’s all I ask,
“In the face of that kind of money I can be Emily
Freakin’ Post,” he replied
and pulled the glass door open, stepping inside.
“Good morning, I’m Doctor House,” He
grudgingly introduced himself. Cuddy
shifted past him to the other side of the bed and took one of the
in her own.
“Morning Tish. How are you feeling?”
“At Death’s door—“ Her aunt
replied in a low, melodic voice. “It’s
“Been there often?” House demanded, taking her
other hand and checking her
pulse. Carefully Morticia Addams turned to look at him, her smile cool
“Always to the porch, never across the threshold
yet,” she replied. House
looked back at her steadily.
“Yeah, well Doorbell Ditch with Death is one of my
specialties,” he told her as
he examined her eyes. “And sometimes I leave a flaming paper
“House!” Cuddy snapped. She gave her aunt an
apologetic look. “He’s really
good, when he’s not being a jerk.”
“That’s all right, darling—it’s
the sign of a dedicated practitioner. Doctor
M’Bongo is often short with me—“ Morticia
hesitated, adding, “Of course it
might also be because he’s a Pygmy.”
House had leaned in now, and was deliberately sniffing
Morticia’s hair, his
brows drawn together in concentration. Fascinated, Morticia shot him
glance but remained perfectly still.
Cuddy blinked a little. “House, what are you doing?”
“Checking for smoke, of course,” he snapped.
“I’m getting hints of shampoo
graveyard mold, but nothing particularly flammable. What brands do
House demanded of Morticia. She gave a little sigh.
“Herbal Decay shampoo and Eternity, by Kalvin
Decline—I did tell that to your
two young colleagues earlier,” Morticia replied. “I
do hope this isn’t going to
take terribly long, Doctor House. I have a chapter meeting of the
Innsmouth Rose Clipping Society to attend--“
Even as she spoke, long tendrils of smoke began to rise from out of
elegant ears, mingling with other wisps drifting upward from various
her scalp. House studied them a moment, then again leaned forward
“I BEG your pardon—“ Morticia blinked,
pulling away slightly. House coughed,
backing up and waving a hand in front of his face.
Cuddy herself gently fanned the air, dispelling the grey strands.
he’s also a little . . . unorthodox at times.
“It’s not paper, or wood or flesh,” he
replied, coughing a little, “Nor is it
cheap smoke you get in magic shops. I need to examine your
Graciously Morticia allowed it, looking regal even when House ended
through an otiscope into her ear. “You’ve been
smoking for years,
“Yes, how can you tell?” Morticia asked, slightly
House sighed. “Your cerumen is completely grey.”
He motioned to Cuddy with his head and they left the room together,
down the hall. Cuddy shot him an anxious look.
“So if the smoking isn’t from an external chemical
reaction then there’s got to
be a biological component. I’m going to go visit the family
crypt and see what
can find,” he replied shortly as he pulled out his Vicodin.
“Have the rest of
the Groovy Ghoulies stay with Auntie Flame there, will you?”
“You’re not going to their house alone,
House—“ Cuddy paused at how odd
sounded. He looked askance at her and she lowered her voice.
“You’re worried about me,” he gloated.
Cuddy gave him a look so dry that
could almost taste the grit. She shook her head.
“No, I just want to be there when you run across . . . a
“There’s bizarre, and then there’s
bizarre—look at this woman’s inoculation
record—Wanga-Wanga fever; Smallpox, Mediumpox, Whoppingpox;
Lycanthropy Serum—I’ve never even HEARD of
shook her head in
“Definitely odd. Take a look at this—“
Chase nodded, pointing to a thick file.
At random he pulled out a sheet of paper; it was vellum, with a wax
seal at the
bottom. “Her birth certificate from Carville Louisiana.
I’ve never heard of
in a leprosarium before.”
“That’s . . . weird,” Foreman agreed,
looking uneasily at the paper, “But
there’s no indication she’s got Hansen’s,
“None documented. Despite the file she’s fairly
healthy—no major surgeries,
chronic diseases, no traumas or infections. How did the family history
Chase asked, looking over the table at the other two.
“Long,” Cameron sighed, “But fascinating
in a train wreck sort of way. She’s a
Frump by birth, and has the lowdown on about a billion relatives all
pretty weird names.”
“As in?” Chase prompted.
Foreman looked at the history. “Apparently the Addams have
Bleak, Bleep, Blink, Blob, Cackle, Caliban, Clot, Creep, Crimp,
Droop, Farouk, Fungus, Goop, Gripe, Grisly, Grope, Imar, Manuel,
Nanook, Plato, Slimey, Slosh, Slump, Trivia, Turncoat, and
No one spoke for a moment.
Then Cameron spoke up again. “Apparently there ARE a few
some color blindness and hirsutism mostly—but nothing
accounts for smoke
from the head. What kind of symptom is that anyway?”
“Maybe she’s an aborted spontaneous
combustion,” Foreman mused. “You
starts to heat up internally and never completes the process.”
“Yeah, well you’d think she’d FEEL that
somehow—a fever or something,”
complained. “And if that’s the case,
what’s causing it to stop?”
“No clue. Where’s House—he’s
the one who’s supposed to be able to figure
out,” Cameron sighed. Chase gave a shrug and moved to
out the old filter full of wet grounds and dumping them in
“Probably off racking up his billing hours—Addams
did say money was no
“So this is it—“ House mused, looking up
at the Second
beyond the rusted
iron gate. “Nice and tomb-ey.”
Next to him, Cuddy gave a long suffering sigh and fished in her purse
huge black key; House took it and lumbered up the long drive towards
keeping his gaze on it. Cuddy kept with pace with him, scowling.
“I always thought you had skeletons to hide,
Cuddy—nice to see I’m right.”
“I know you won’t understand this House, since
it’s in the realm of genuine
emotion, but they’ve been good to me, all right? Uncle Gomez
is a major
philanthropist. He and my aunt set up a trust fund for me when I was
spent summers with them in the Hamptons,
and I always had a place at their
table for Christmas.”
“Yeahyeahyeah, love and kisses, the best relatives in the
whatever,” House replied, reaching the front porch.
“I’m sure they NEVER
suppressed you and let you explore ALL the colors of your rainbow
his absent sneer as he stuck the key in the lock.
Cuddy paused, and forced herself to relax. She reached out for the
pressed it; immediately a foghorn blared out and House twitched a
low groaning boom echoing over the porch.
“What did you do that for?” he complained. She
cocked her head, opened the
and waved him in.
“Just making a point about not being normal. Come
They stepped into a little foyer; House eyed it then moved into the
room, scanning it carefully. Cuddy didn’t bother looking
around—she kept her
on House, watching him keenly as he let his gaze move about the room.
took in the mounted swordfish with the leg hanging out of it with
“This was no boating accident,” House quoted almost
playfully. Cuddy bit
grin and strode forward, walking around the bearskin rug and
in the rattan peacock chair carefully. House glanced at her for
looked around again.
“Eclectic and eccentric. The whims of the wealthy on full
display with the
added snob appeal of being genuine, no doubt—“ He
stepped back, and his
landed on the polar bearskin rug, which growled menacingly at
twitched again, and then promptly swung the walking stick,
the tip of
it against the black nose on the stuffed head. This time the bear
“Your name’s not Smoky is it?” he
addressed the rug. Cuddy shook her head
“That’s Hotfoot, just ignore him, he’s
harmless. I’m more concerned about
Cat. Tell me what you’re looking for, House—you
HAVE to have some
Carefully House turned and walked over to the wall under the cuckoo
examined the human outline on the wall, and the little slit holes all
edge. Off to one side were the knives. House pulled them out, hefting
experimentally, but Cuddy was out of the chair and at his side before
do anything more. “Don’t. It takes years,
“Like YOU can do it,” he scoffed. She set her mouth
in a thin line. Moving
gracefully, Cuddy tugged the knives away, marched away from the wall
turned, tossing blade after blade so quickly that they looked like a
silver stream flying from her hands to the wall. Soft little
hits and the head of the outline was neatly ringed in quivering handles.
House refused to admit he was impressed. “And to think you
Cuddy had one blade left; she flung it with more force than needed and
the crotch of the outline, burying itself deeply in the wall.
House winced. “Note to self; don’t argue with Cuddy
near the steak knives of
the cafeteria. Sooooooo—you wanted to hear my
Cuddy crossed her arms and moved closer, crossing over
would, before you get into any more trouble in this house. What do
going on with Aunt Morticia?”
“Does she have a garden? A greenhouse or
conservatory?” House muttered.
place with those roses she mentioned growing?”
“Uh, yeah . . . out here,” Cuddy replied, leading
the way. They stepped out
into the dank, cool, glass-walled room. House noted the window boxes
mushrooms and murky hanging vines. He gritted his teeth and
his cane on
the stone floor.
“Okay, so start looking for shit. Or in actuality,
fertilizer—anything with a
particularly high phosphorus content. We want to check any and all
compounds out here, because I suspect your aunt’s been
exposed to the stuff
years. Long enough for it to be absorbed into her skin and
For most people that would be a death sentence of course, but
pointed out, normal isn’t quite the word anyone
Cuddy looked over from the crate she was examining to see House
ruthlessly strangled by a thick strand of vine wrapping itself tightly
throat. Reaching up, she tugged on the plant, hard. “Cleo,
knock it off . .
come on, just calm down and let him go!”
The plant tightened a little, and Cuddy squared her shoulders even
face began to turn red, his hands gripping the vine futilely.
stopped tugging and gently stroked instead. “Come on, honey,
goooooood girl and let go—“
Gradually the vine slackened and began to unwind; Cuddy carefully
loops away from House’s throat and when he was free, she
pulled him away
the plant’s reach. House leaned over Cuddy’s
shoulder and jabbed a
finger at the potted vine. “Oh yeah?” he rasped
hatefully, “You want to
man-eater, bring it on! I’ve got one word for you,
The plant swayed menacingly, like a leaf-covered cobra. Cuddy tried to
two antagonists apart, growling a little herself. “House,
knock it off! Cleo—“
she trailed off, not sure how to chastise a plant,
“—Just--don’t get your roots
in a knot, okay?”
Carefully she made House rest his butt against the edge of one of the
tables and checked his neck. He whined, but let her do it.
“Stupid piece of
kudzu . . . “
“Shhhhhh, Cleopatra’s Aunt Morticia’s
oldest and most favorite plant, House.
Don’t even think of defoliating her or I’ll . . .
“What? Fire me? Over a plant? A plant that willfully tried to
STRANGLE me, I
might add—“ he snarled. House stretched his chin up
as Cuddy gently
throat. “Anyway it doesn’t matter.
There’s a huge bag of Cemetery Friend brand
fertilizer right under that windowsill. I can smell the stuff, and
to be a little chemical analysis will show it’s a good
Cuddy sighed. “You look a little red, but other than that
you’re fine. Okay,
good. This is good—I’ll grab a glass from the
kitchen and we can take a
of the fertilizer back to the hospital. You go wait in the living room
though—I’m not leaving you here.”
“Worried I’ll pluck up the wonder weed?”
“Worried you’ll end up hanging from the
rafters,” Cuddy replied firmly. “Come
She settled him onto the sofa and slipped out of the room, leaving
sulk a bit as he toyed with his cane. Absently he fished in his pocket
pill bottle, twisting the cap off and pouring a pair of capsules in his
glass of water nudged his wrist and he waved it off absently.
“No thanks, I
swallow dry,” he told the hand in the box holding out the
House swallowed his Vicodin, choked a little as realization set in,
over at the glass once more. The hand holding it waggled the offered
little more temptingly and House finally took it. A dry and flat
out of him, more a reflex than genuine gratitude, but the hand cheerily
him the ‘okay’ sign and pulled the lid of the box
House stared at the water. “Got any beer?” he
The hand emerged again with the speed of a jack in the box, holding out
Addams Pumpkin Ale. House nodded approvingly and traded it for
“Okay—you, I like.”
When Cuddy returned, she found House swigging the beer and talking to
“ . . . And I don’t want to make any assumptions
here, but right now I’m not
really in the mood to work up a theory as to why I should fret over
disembodied hand, you know? Live and let live, particularly if
share the brewskis.” He glanced up at Cuddy, who looked
“See you’ve made friends with Thing.”
“Every man should be in touch with Things,” House
agreed. “Particularly when
beer is involved. You’re the designated driver, by the way,
so I’ll just stay
while you go get the fertilizer.”
“You’re going to make me do all the
legwork?” Cuddy griped. House nodded,
saluting her with the beer.
“Hey, you’ve got three thumbs up on that.”
“Phosphorus. Her hands in particular are loaded with
it,” Cameron marveled,
waving at the microscope. “It’s in her skin,
absorbed down through the
But why is it making her head smoke?”
House leaned back against the lab table and looked up at the ceiling,
compose a lofty explanation, but Cameron added, “And who gave
“That’s NOT a hickey,” he growled,
rubbing his neck, “The reason Cuddy’s
Morticia’s head smoked was that it’s the part of
the body most exposed
temperature changes. Those changes caused the phosphorus in
system to sweat
out and become exposed to the air—bingo, smoke.”
“Why more now?”
“Menopause,” House shot back. “One of the
major symptoms of menopause
flashes, and in this case, flash is pretty much the operative
“So—prior to this she smoked off and on, but
“Now she’s on hormone replacement therapy to cut
down on her fumes,”
finished, moving out of the lab.
He made his way through the hospital until he stood outside the glass
watching in through the blinds at the group assembled around the
In the low light of evening they all looked just as out of place as
somehow it didn’t seem to matter. Cuddy was with them,
smiling, one arm around
the husky boy, the other around Gomez. She looked up in time
She excused herself and stepped out of the room.
“So.” He replied. “They’re
still a freak show.”
Cuddy nodded softly. “Aren’t most
Later, in the darkness of his office, House finished typing up the case
on the computer. He saved the file and leaned back, pleased to think
New England Journal of Medicine would probably be interested in the
he felt a tap on his forearm.
Thing was leaning out of the cigar box on the far side of the desk,
an envelope. House saw his own name nearly written on it.
“Thanks.” Taking it, House turned it over and saw
the wax seal on the back; a
gothic capital A. He used the letter opener and pulled out a sheet of
House old man,
You did the job splendidly! We’ve switched fertilizers, Tish
is on the mend and
you have the gratitude of the whole clan. Consider this an open
come on out to the house anytime! Thing gives you the thumbs up, and
not doing anything on Halloween, get Lisa to bring you on over.
girl, whiz at dueling, yoga and demolition in case you didn’t
P.S. If you ever need to fire bullets into a body again, let me know!
Under the note was a check.
A really BIG check.