Fourth

PrintE-mail Written by Howard Mosley-Chalk


The information hovered above the desk as if projected onto thin air. ‘Catherine Eddowes’ was at the top above smaller writing in green. There was an image; he studied it carefully mouthing ‘Fourth victim, Mitre square, September 30th.’

Turning from the screen he said ‘open’ to the opposite wall. Instantly metal shutters began to retreat upwards into the ceiling, letting in light from the window behind. A block of yellow slowly crawled across the floor toward him and slid over his desk and his body before burning into his eyes. The sun was setting; darkness soon.

As details of timings, distances and coroners reports ran through his mind, he stood and walked over to the window. The city stretched out below him and continued as far as he could see. The red sky was reflected on the dark shiny water of the Thames. A long winding artery.

A ship passed his window, its anti-grav engine rattling the glass. It was a commercial transport and wasn’t supposed to fly so close to this skyscraper. He considered contacting the authorities then laughed at his stupidity. ‘Bad idea.’

The descending sun threw London into shadow; long dark columns were cast from the base of each tower, each spire and tall structure. He thought about the people living in the shadow of his building. It was already night-time for them.

Two hundred stories below him, lights began to blink on as the ex-capitol prepared for the darkness, for the end of the day. He had only just woken. Turning, he made for the kitchenette and spoke ‘coffee, usual’ to the counter. He waited for the machine to process his beverage.

‘Catherine Eddowes,’ he recited, ‘fourth victim, discovered 1.45am, September 30th, 1888, Mitre square. Last seen 1.35am, approximate time of murder: 1.40am. Mitre Square, Mitre square, Mitre…’  The machine announced his drink was ready. He sipped it straight away, ignoring the burn.

‘Map,’ he said to the wall beyond his desk. A current image of the British Isles came into being. ‘Temporal image; AD 1888.’ The image flickered and changed; the shape of the country altered, grew. Land reappeared that no longer existed. ‘Zoom, London, east, Mitre Square’. The black smudge that was London in the late 19th century immediately filled the floating screen. A red, slowly rotating circle highlighted an open courtyard surrounded by small brick buildings. A synthesised female voice declared: ‘Mitre Square, London, as of AD 1888.’ It looked alien to him.

He stepped closer to the image and studied it. ‘Add terrain; put me at street level. Immerse.’

The flat image warped and wrapped itself around his head, lowering the angel of view and adding detail to each building. As he turned his head, so the image responded, showing him what it was like to stand in Mitre Square in 1888. He recognised a doorway from an old photograph. ‘Zoom’. The feature came to him, focussed and clear. ‘That’s it. Exit.’

The image disappeared. He finished his coffee.


*****


The sun had gone, replaced by light from the city itself; far brighter, far more dangerous.

His phone rang; he ignored it.

Sitting at his desk once more, he entered the final computations. He used a touch-board, one from storage, still with a thick layer of dust in the corners. He couldn’t risk entering the data vocally in case one of his neighbours heard. His fingers ached; they weren’t used to typing.

As he pressed the final ‘execute’ command, the ceramic ring on the floor in front of the window began to vibrate gently. He quickly adjusted the volume controls knowing the computer was about to say: ‘Gateway activated. Drop zone acquired. Saint Botolph Street, London EC3A. Distance from target: 0.3 miles.’

He spun on his chair to face the blank wall. ‘Show on map.’ London returned, the London he knew. The map focussed, again with a red circle, on St. Botolph St. It still existed. Mitre square did not. ‘Overlay AD 1888 image.’ That strange place returned and lined up, as best it could, with the map of the present. As he had suspected, Mitre Square had been consumed beneath a giant tower. The map label designated the building as ‘Purpose Unknown’. That meant it was a Government building.

‘Time?’

‘Twenty-three forty-two hours.’

He should get going. He placed the energy cell into the circle on the floor and watched as the blue liquid within began to bubble and churn. He dressed: black trousers, white wing-collar shirt and bow tie, black frock coat and black leather shoes. He regretted not breaking the shoes in; if he had to run they might be uncomfortable. Finally he placed a black Top hat upon his head. Considering himself in a mirror, he removed it instantly. He fiddled with the hair on his upper lip; it had taken him a month to grow the moustache. He hadn’t left his apartment much during that time.

As he checked through the contents of a leather briefcase he had bought especially, the computer told him ‘The Energy Cell is primed’. He collected the small metal canister from the floor. As he placed it carefully in the case he could feel the power emanating from the liquid within.

He left. In the elevator one of his neighbours commented on his strange attire. ‘Fancy dress party’ he answered.


*****


The data-tablet told him he was standing in the right location. St. Botolph Street today was a bustling retail and entertainment sector. As he stood quietly on the pavement hundreds if not thousands of people passed him. Many ignored him, some smiled at his outfit; he smiled back. Through the glare of street lights, holographic adverts and the shroud of night-smog he could see the darkened Government building looming above him. He considered the distance to the building’s base.

The implant in his ear gently said ‘Prepare for transit’.

He tensed and shut his eyes, remembering that this always hurt. The cell in his briefcase burst open and he was engulfed in blue light. His ears popped. His eyes stung. His stomach rose. To the people all around him, he just faded into nothing. To him, he was torn, wrenched backwards and forced through an icy blizzard of sensation. Buffeted this way and that, he felt compressed and contorted.

It stopped. He opened his eyes.

St. Botolph was dark and quiet before him. The smell of smoke filled his nostrils; an odd scent. He flexed his fingers and put a hand to his forehead to soak up the sweat. Taking several deep breaths he ran over the speech in his mind; the one that grounds him, calms him, congratulates him.

The sound of vomiting stirred his body into motion. He turned to see a man leaning against a gas-powered lamp post, brown liquid issuing from his mouth. He looked about the street:  just as the computer had shown him; brick or timber buildings, no higher than three stories and a road of gravel. He found himself fascinated by the sight of a pile of animal faeces in the middle of the street; the smell brought back childhood memories of museums.

He whispered ‘Time?’ The implant answered ‘Zero-one Twenty-three hours’.

He started walking, noticing the gaping hole in the sky where the Government building was not.


*****


Mitre square was just that; a square of empty open land, fenced in by decrepit buildings on all sides. He stood in the shadowy shelter of a doorway, his body pressed against the wood. As predicted, it was a perfect place to conceal one’s self. Although he’d only been there a few minutes the cold had penetrated his period clothing. He’d never felt cold like this before and made a mental note about thermal underwear for his next trip.

A woman entered the square. She was clearly intoxicated and he was expecting that. He’d read the coroner’s report which detailed the events of that night; how the victim had been previously arrested for drunkenness. He knew it was her before the implant confirmed: ‘Alpha subject acquired. Facial match for Catherine Eddowes.’ He smiled at his own tenacity.

He watched the woman stagger along the far side of the Square and then stop. Something had caught her attention. A man appeared behind her. He wore a short black hat and carried a small leather bag. He called over to the woman. She approached him, placed a hand upon his chest and giggled. The implant said: ‘Beta subject acquired. Descriptive match for unknown assailant’. That was his cue.

Immerging from the shadows he walked calmly toward the couple. The woman saw him first and said ‘ello?’ He smiled at the cliché. The man in the hat then turned and frowned.

The Taser was already in his hand and charged. He fired, striking the unknown man in the chest. He fell. The woman gasped. He fired again, hitting her in the face. She fell.

Pocketing the stun-gun, he grabbed the woman’s wrists and dragged her to the spot he had identified earlier from the photographs; the place they found her.

‘Time?’

‘Zero-one thirty-seven.’

He had seven minutes before she was discovered by a Policeman walking his beat, and just five minutes until the man in the hat woke up. Plenty of time.

He set his leather case next to the woman, opened it and took out a six-inch steel blade. The first cut was deep and to her throat, this was the cause of death. Next were several smaller incisions to the eye lids and ear lobes. Then, after opening the woman’s petticoat and changing to another larger knife, he cut along the y-axis of her torso to reveal the internal organs. Fluids leaked and steam erupted as warm escaping gases conflicted with the cold night air. His attention focussed primarily on the intestines before moving to the genitals.

After four and a half minutes, the sleeping man stirred. He groaned and reached a hand to his brow. Time to go.

Satisfied with his work, he stood, placed the bloodied implements back in the leather case and shouted loudly, in an accent he had learnt from old films ‘Oh my goodness!’ knowing it would attract the attention of one PC Edward Watkins who will enter the Square via Dukes Place. He turned and walked off in the other direction.

As he made his way down Mitre Street and back toward the Drop zone he considered what the poor man in the hat made of all this; beaten to it every time. He also considered who’s M.O. he was now actually copying, but causality made his head spin so he gave up.


The End


Howard has worked as an actor, stand-up comedian, cinema usher and Roman history tour guide. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Alan Campbell, the creepy cycle path near his house and the month of October. He writes science fiction, fantasy and slipstream. He lives at www.howardmosleychalk.com and welcomes you to visit. He has a wife and a baby daughter who likes to point at him.


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