Heylo, lovely people. So before we get to today's Flash Fiction, I have two announcements for you. 1) The Kickstarter to fund UNINVITED (Etudes in C#, No. 3) will launch on September 1! You made UNVEILED possible. You want more Cat Sharp, now it's time to find out what happens to her, Flynn, Karma....Marius? This time there will be some of the swag you love and some new rewards, including a tier for booksellers. I've got some surprises for you, so stay tuned and get ready. The push to make UNINVITED soar is going to happen September 1.
2) The whole Cat Sharp series will be coming to you in a new format: audio! That's right, you'll be able to purchase audiobooks of WILD CARD, UNVEILED and UNINVITED through Audible and iTunes. I've hired the stellar Mandy Nelson to voice our beloved Cat Sharp and tell these stories. I'm really happy with the work she did in auditioning for the role and can't wait to see what she puts together. We hope to have WILD CARD available for purchase in late November/early December, with UNVEILED on your device a few months later. The UNINVITED audio release will coordinate with the e-book/print release in late 2016.
So that's what's happening here.
About that flash...
Today's flash comes from a few vectors. Two are pictures from my Pinterest prompt board (I'll post them at the end because they contain spoilers. WARNING: One is quite graphic.) The third is from Zoe Mora who requested "Gaslamp horror detective story." Decided to run with at least the first couple words of that.
So without further ado, here is this week's flash piece, Teeth.
Teeth By Jamie Wyman
Dobson stepped out of the inky shadows that clung to the butcher's door. As he struck the match and brought it to his pipe, the doctor's pallid features came into view. Gaunt, pockmarked cheeks, and a mustache the color of chaff disappeared behind the plume of smoke.
“Well, Doctor?” Graves asked. “What do you make of it?”
Dobson sucked on his pipe. “Ghastly,” he murmured as he shook out the match. “Simply horrific.”
“It's the third such specimen we've discovered, Doctor.”
Eyes wide, Dobson stared at the constable. “In how long?”
After a heavy sigh and no small amount of contemplation, Doctor Erich Dobson set off down the street, his cane clicking lightly against the cobbles. “Three. In such a short time. Are the...” he pondered his words carefully, “...victims...related?”
“If you're asking if they're family, the answer is no. The first case brought to our attention was a baby, weaned not five weeks earlier than he died. The other two were men; a wheelwright and a baker. Both young and stouthearted.” Graves winced. “Forgive the expression, Doctor.”
“So we can rule out a defect spread among relatives,” Dobson muttered to himself. “And about the frequency? Is it increasing in incidence, tapering?”
“Steady. You couldn't set a watch by it, but there's no sign of speeding up or slowing down. I wanted to ask you, do you think this might be a plague of some sort? Something we should be concerned is catching?”
Dobson shook his head, “I don't see how this condition would be spread, quite honestly.”
The pair walked beneath the gaslamps and mulled over their predicament. More than once Constable Graves opened his mouth to offer a theory, but then, thinking himself wrong, kept his peace.
Tis better to remain silent and believed to be wise, he thought, than to speak and be proven a fool.
“And your butcher friend back there,” Dobson said derisively, “how came he across these specimens?”
Graves scratched at his cheek absently. “Well, strictly speaking, Doctor, Mr. Ames comes from poorer stock. Wanted to be in your profession, but the wages for such schooling as a surgeon needs weren't there. So he took the family trade.”
“Not uncommon in this area.”
“Too right. In fact, that's how he gets the bodies. He wants to study, you see, to learn about the physiology of people, not just lambs and calves. So, when someone in the neighborhood passes on, he offers the family a few quid for the chance to study the body.”
“And those rather macabre late night studies are how you've come to find not one, but three instances of human hearts that are sprouting teeth?”
Graves nodded solemnly. “Aye.”
“You trust this chap? You're certain he's not at the root of it?”
“I trust him. Even if I didn't...well, you saw with your own eyes.”
Quite right, Dobson thought. He'd held one of the hearts in his hand. Though Ames did his best to preserve the organs, the flesh had begun to turn brown and black with decay. Despite the putrifaction, the teeth were firmly imbeded in the muscle fibers. There had been no stitches, no adhesive, and when Erich ran his thumb over the flat edges of the teeth, they didn't flake away as he'd expected them to.
“Tell me everything you can, Constable. Spare no syllables.”
As they walked, Constable Graves regaled Dobson with the cases. The infant had died shortly after his mother. The widower, obviously woebegone, told officers that the child had squalled for most of a month before his death.
“And the mother's heart?”
Graves shook his head. “We don't know. Our friend did not tend to her remains.”
“Go on, then.”
“The wheelwright had been complaining of pains in his chest for a time, but such things are the way with a man who works such hours as he.”
“Bit of a cad, really, if the rumors at the pub are to be believed. A different woman every night, and some of them working a trade of their own.”
“Who then, received money from Mr. Ames for the dubious honor of studying the young man's corpse?”
“A brother hoping to cover some of the dead man's many gambling debts.”
“And the third? A chipper was it?”
“Baker. Odd lad, really. Quiet. Kept to 'imself. Didn't take much interest in the fairer sex, though there was apparently a queue of rather keen lasses. One in particular came calling every day at work and at home if you can believe such brazenness.”
“And his chest. Did it pain him as well?”
“It did, indeed.”
“Now, Constable, the greater question I have for you: why are you investigating this? Why have you consulted with me?”
“Plainly speaking, Doctor, after that bloke in Whitechapel began ripping up girls, people have been a bit keen to point out anything odd.”
The Doctor let out a scoff that echoed down the empty lane. “You can't possibly think this is intentional. That someone is going out of their way to, like the Ripper, kill in a particularly grisly fashion! No, sir, this is clearly some physical defect, some mutation that is causing these poor people to grow extra teeth from their hearts.”
The constable pulled up the collar of his coat to hid the color rising in his cheeks. “Glad to hear you say so, sir.”
The ambled on in respectable silence until a woman came shrieking out of the alley.
“I only wanted to love you!” she wailed tearfully. “'My wife', you said. 'My boy,' you said. What's your excuse now?”
“Ma'am?” Constable Graves asked as he drifted forward. “Is there trouble about what I can help you with?”
She turned her angry stare to him, and her eyes softened, glittering in the gaslamp glow.
“Oy, lovey,” she sang, “you're a right looker, ain't ya?”
Her gaze flitted up past the constable and landed on Doctor Dobson.
“And your friend is pretty as a picture, too. Either of you gents fancy a lady's company.”
Dobson scoffed again, turning up his nose at the pungent smell of the woman. Even from a distance he could detect cheap alcohol and notes of opium blending with her unwashed odor. “None of the like you'd provide.”
She wrinkled her nose to mock his expression. “Think you're too good to tumble in the gutter, eh, love?” Taking Graves by the collar, she drunkenly drawled on. “Come on, then, we don't need him. Let's you and me find some quiet and get to know each other.”
“Terribly sorry, ma'am, but I am on duty. If you need help I will see you to your door, but no further than that,” Graves said, his tone clipped and calm.
The woman looked back and forth between Graves and Dobson, disbelief shifting to dejection and then to fiery rage.
“Why won't you let me love you? Why won't any of you accept that all I want is to give you my heart?”
She was screaming now, and the shadows of the street seemed to climb up onto her face and perch in her eyes. She clutched at her chest and began to convulse, while wretched gagging sounds ripped out of her throat. Plumes of black smoke billowed from her mouth.
Dobson could only stare in shock as he watched the fit in action. What a remarkable study this woman would make!
To the doctor's horror, however, Graves clutched at his chest, eyes bulging wide as he gasped for breath.
“Dobson?” he croaked.
Dobson had no time to answer before he, too, was caught by the most horrific pain gnawing at his chest. The constable's face grew purple, veins throbbing in his neck. Dobson went to his knees in agony. And still, the woman continued to spew black smoke into the air.
“How?” Dobson moaned.
He fell onto his side and lay prone. The eyes of the petrified constable were the last the doctor saw.
When both men were dead, the stream of smoke turned blood red the instant before it stopped. Elena pitched forward, thrown about by the momentum of the episode. She staggered, staring down at the bodies.
“None the likes you could give,” she mocked Dobson.
After spitting on their corpses, Elena lifted her skirts and shook herself at them.
“Are you finished?” Mr. Ames asked.
Frightened, Elena jerked away and eyed the newcomer warily. The butcher held out his large hands.
“I just want their bodies,” he said.
“Aye, they're yours, love.”
Elena turned on her heel and shuffled down the alley, cursing to herself and shouting obscenities. Mr. Ames hauled Dobson and Graves back to his cellar where he could begin his work.