By Owen Quinn Author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
The Time Warriors are drawn to Victorian London gripped in terror by the return of Jack the Ripper. Women are being murdered again and the police are helpless. Varran realises it’s all wrong because this history never happened. What lies within the walls of an insane asylum? Who is Wainwright? What is the link between the future and Varran’s own past?
London was becoming a symbol for prosperity and a brave new world as more and more immigrants arrived to carve a niche in London society. No one realised what a wonderful time this was and how it would shape the entire face of the city for decades to come.
Not that Emily Baxter was aware of this as she stumbled from the Ram and the Bull tavern.
She shivered at the chill in the air and allowed herself a quick look at the night sky with its spray of silent stars before the black veil of night.
She snorted at the fog, her alcohol breath solidifying with each breath. Emily was a lady of the night who worked the Whitechapel area. Some nights business was good and she was able to adorn her rented room with pretty laces and cloths she had never seen growing up.
Her parents were dead, leaving her an orphan who had lived on the streets until she had fallen into the employ of old Mister Porter whom she had served as a maid for many years until he died from consumption.
When that happened his lecherous son had sold the house and its entire contents to immigrate to the Americas where apparently wealth guaranteed a life of luxury among the elite of which there were many there.
Emily had often wondered what her life would have been like if young Mister Porter had loved her as she did him and whisked her away from a life of servitude to where she would be waited on hand and foot and drink tea on a balcony in the Havanas.
She’d always liked the sound of the Havanas, a place she had first read about in one of the many books in the Porter library.
Mister Porter encouraged his staff to read and educate themselves. He was a rare breed indeed.
He would beguile his staff with wonderful stories from all over the world, transporting them night after night to places they had never imagined but had heard existed somewhere where the ships sailed.
It seemed a virile world, full of opportunity and excitement. Life was good in the Porter household but Emily couldn’t help but wonder.
While serving dinner, young Mister Porter never noticed Emily’s coy, bashful glances, stolen when the servants weren’t being watched.
But in the early hours, she didn’t resist his dark advances when he stole into her room to satisfy his lust.
And poor, poor Emily had thought it was love because the books said so.
She could scarcely believe it when he departed with his new wife, leaving her all alone, the house, their home, sold from underneath them.
Unfortunately, her severance pay hadn’t lasted that long and Emily had found herself drawn into the world of prostitution. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine being on that balcony basking in a glorious pink and red sunset. And there she stayed until her customers had finished and paid her for her time.
With no lover or suitable courtier, Emily had fallen heavily into drink and smoking. Her cackling laugh attracted many of the wrong type.
She was lonely but the money she could save and intended to get enough to go to the Havanas and live there, maybe meet up again with Mister Porter.
It was a dream that cuddled her to sleep many a night and would again tonight for she had had no takers and with the influx of sailors from the docks, it was rare for there to be no takers.
But then Emily had aged badly, drink having given her a face old before her time, her chestnut locks now singed with white and grey, hanging like greasy rat tails. She was a woman of forty two who looked fifteen years older. Her once perfect teeth had yellowed and rotted. Her lungs were raked with tobacco abuse.
Yet in her mind she was young and beautiful and still in her prime. Her little room was her world, a haven of hopes and dreams, a mere stepping stone to a new world.
There she would die of old age bathed in the warmth of perfect sunsets and maybe children. Oh, how she longed for a child to love and care for and to give it the life she never had.
A mischievous chill brought her back to the cobbled street beneath a street light, its gas flame a melted glow in the dank fog. She could hear the steady chatter of night life as horses bore their passengers to their varied destinations, respites from the cold air.
Checking her torn handbag with its broken clasp had not been emptied by one of the more scurrilous clients of the inn, Emily pulled her green frayed knitted scarf tighter around her neck. With a hopeful breath, she set off at a slow pace homeward, humming a tune to herself.
She saw a deformed shadow emerge from the grey walls before her, making her jump only to realise it was a drunken group of sailors, merry on shore leave and loyal servants of her majesty.
She called out to them, desperate for a last minute client but they laughed at her, pulling at her like a rag.
“No love, I’d rather spend my money on something a bit fresher,” one guffawed cruelly as they vanished into the night.
Giving them the fingers, Emily fired some unlady like language after them. She steadied her trembling lips and ignored the burning of her cheeks.
“I’m a lady, ya buggers!” she yelled before going on her way. I’ll show you, she cursed, when I’m sitting in the Americas and you’re throwing your guts up on the high seas, scratching your bits and praying the sores don’t make ‘em fall off. Bloody sailors, lepers the lot of ‘em!
Still cursing their lack of taste, she turned up into an alley. It was a shortcut home. She would soon be safe in her own bed, nestled among the hand stitched quilt with its panorama of pink roses which she picked up on the market for six pence from a grubby old sod.
The alley was flanked on either side by tall buildings which made it seem darker than it should. The fog squeezed into the narrow passage way in veils of shifting shadow.
The walls seemed moist both with urine and the damp night. Emily kept looking to make sure she didn’t step in anything untoward and soil her laced black shoes that had seen more repair than the Tower itself.
Dizzy from a mix of alcohol and fatigue, Emily stumbled, cursing those that used the alley to relieve themselves, falling roughly against a water barrel. It was worn and held together by two thick black metal bands and filled with green sloshing water. Jumping back as her fingers broke the surface, Emily wiped them on a dirty handkerchief she whipped from her pocket.
“God knows what diseases I can catch from that,” she muttered frustrated. As if to make sure, she looked into the water in case there was a dead dog or worse stuffed into the barrel.
The dark rippling surface betrayed nothing as the water shook from the effects of her hand breaking the surface. The barrel seemed to reflect only blackness. Emily stuffed the hanky back into her pocket, germs suddenly forgotten as something caught her eye.
As the water calmed, two lights appeared from the surface. For a second, Emily stood mesmerised thinking it was two of the most brilliant stars she had ever seen trapped in the murky surface of the water.
She cocked her head slightly as she leaned forward, her wrinkled hand lifting as if to scoop them away.
She stopped as the lights blinked.
Stars don’t blink, she thought bemused.
It took a moment for her to realise the twin stars were a reflection. Screwing up her face, she looked up. Her face froze in pure terror.
She choked on her scream as the huge black shape fell on her. The only witness to the sound of her flesh being ripped apart was the coiling fog which settled around the horror silently.
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