flash fiction

Pajamazon: The Return!

by Sacha Goldberger Welcome to 2016! I've been editing for clients the past 2 months, and with the holidays, other pursuits, and the untimely death of my sweet night fury Sprocket, I've had very little time to devote to writing new material. Even flash fiction. Thank you all for bearing with me during this time.

I return today with the first bit of flash for the new year. 2080 words to make up for my absence of late. The prompt comes from a conversation I saw on Twitter, that was later sent to me by a friend.

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I absolutely LOVED this premise. While I haven't taken on the grand epic scale at this time, I humbly offer this bit of flash to get the party started. I know that for many of us, this has been a grim week. Please enjoy "Gran Lantern." <3 j.

 

Gran Lantern

by Jamie Wyman

 

Una Bainbridge-Harcourt was just about to settle into a lovely cuppa when there came upon her door a most pernicious knocking. The widow mumbled to herself with much consternation, not in regards the hammering, mind, but at the loud cracking of her bones as she rose to her feet. Shuffling across the carpet, Una put out a hand to brace herself on the back of her favorite armchair, then on the well-papered walls. She found it appalling to use her cane in the comfort of her own home. And so it went, feet dragging, hands out that her worldly possessions might keep her upright until she finally reached the door.

The security chain clattered against the wood in a counter-rhythm to the banging of the fist, the timbre of which was growing louder, faster and more impertinent with each passing second.

“Half a minute, love,” she called to the insistent visitor while undoing the locks and chain. “It takes these old bones more than a tick or two to be making her way about.”

She peered out onto her stoop to find a man—pale and sallow of face, with hair to his shoulders that was the color of dried wheat. She saw silver at his temples and wrinkles about his dull blue eyes. Confusion pulled at his mouth, leaving it open for all manner of things to fly in while nothing of import came out.

Una pursed her lips and gave her most imperious stare—one which she'd seen on the visage of Her Majesty in the latest tabloid gracing the supermarket checkout.

“Well then?” she asked, voice pitched to be shrewish.

“Are you... I'm looking for Una Bainbridge,” the man said in a simple country drawl.

Poor man, Una thought. Welsh. Nothing for it but to humor the pet.

She straightened herself to full height and lifted her chin with pride. “It's Bainbridge-Harcourt,” she corrected, “and don't you forget that last part. Though the man did leave in a rather abrupt and untimely fashion, he is still of enough import that I wear his name.”

The visitor looked to his feet and muttered to himself, “I'm late.”

Una cast a glance out the door, peering along the row of town houses. Sun glinted off of her neighbor's Mini parked on the curb. The Michaelson brats played a few homes down, their skateboards making that dreadful scratching noise on the pavements.

“Late?” Una asked. “It's not yet half passed two.”

“Ms. Bainbridge...”

“Bainbridge-Harcourt,” she said, the stranger joining on the last word with a nod.

“...I am a member of the Lighthouse Watch Corps, and I must speak with you.”

Una softened, giving her most grandmotherly smile. “Oh, poppet, I'm sorry, but I've got no interest in religion.”

“No, marm, it's not religion. The Lighthouse Watch Corps is--”

“Rehab, then?” she asked with a knowing tilt of her head. Una waved at him to pause. “Give us a tick, love, you've got that look about you.”

She shut the door and pawed open her handbag. She fished through the bag's contents and withdrew a small, red coin purse before opening the door again.

“I don't have much to offer you, dear,” Una apologized as she opened the coin purse. With a raspy laugh, she added, “I'm just a pensioner after all.”

The stranger stared at her, utterly dumbfounded and silent.

Una took his fist and unfolded his fingers so that his sweaty palm was exposed to the balmy air.

“Here you are.” She dropped a few coins into his hand, then curled his fingers around them. “I know how hard it can be to get back on your feet in this day and age. I've a son, not quite so old as you, I'd wager, but old enough to've made his share of mistakes.” She patted his fist. “Good luck to you.”

She gave a wink and made to shut the door, but the stranger—roused from his stupor by the clacking of her knocker—stuck a foot over the threshold.

“Marm, please. I'm not here for handouts. I just need you to listen to me. It's of the utmost importance that you hear me out.”

Una—frightened at first by the younger man's quick obstruction—fell into a cool calm at the sight of the stranger's pleading expression. She opened the door wide and moved aside for him to enter, but not without putting a hand on the cane resting against the wall.

“Come sit down and unburden yourself, love.”

After closing up behind him, Una led the young man into the parlor.

“Don't mind Mr. Sniffles,” she added, pointing with her cane to the expanse of tawny fluff sprawled on the rug. “He's a large cat, to be sure, but I'm afraid he has lost the will to do anything other than sleep and obtain devotional belly rubbings.”

Una bent—with much creaking and moaning—to give the animal a scratch behind his ears, and tottered over to the chair by the window. She placed a hand on the arm nearest to the basket of knitting needles should the man turn out to be a ruffian with less than friendly purpose.

“Tell me, then, what is your name and what is it that is so dire?”

He hunched on the edge of the wingback armchair, elbows resting on his spread knees. For a time he sat contemplating the pile of the carpet while steepling his fingers at his lips.

“Forgive me,” he said finally, “I've not had to do this before, nor will I ever again, so I am trying to get it right. And this is a bit of a sensitive matter.”

Una shifted in her seat, then reached for her tea in an attempt to disguise her discomfort at both this chair and the visitor's words. Her chamomile had gone cold. This is why one should never answer the door when taking tea.

“Una,” the man said earnestly, drawing her attention away from the undrinkable brew. “I am Cal Borden. I'm a member of an elite team of warriors.”

“The Light Brigade, was it?”

He shook his head, “No, marm. Lighthouse Watch Corps. We are...stewards. Of great power. We've been charged with a great task of keeping the world safe from the denizens of the dark realm, Decem Fthog.”

Una blinked. “Mr. Borden, with all due respect and kindness, I must declare that you are a nutter.”

“I'm not.”

“You're positively barking!”

Rather than argue the point, Cal reached into his pocket. Una's right hand gripped her longest, sharpest needles so that if the knave came charging at her she might put the point where it would suit him best. For a moment, she lamented using them for such grisly purposes. After all, they were her best pair. And though she hadn't done anything with yarn in months, what with her arthritis, Una was loath to part with such fine tools. She was, as it turned out, saved the burden of replacing ruined knitting needles and not using those either when Mr. Borden produced an emerald bracelet and placed it on his own wrist.

Ethereal light gleamed, bathing Una's belongings in green.

“We are,” Cal said, voice deep with pomp and importance, “the only defense the people of Earth have against the enemy. Our lineage is a long one. Our heritage proud. Hundreds have borne the light over the centuries. And now, Una Bainbridge-Harcourt, the Lighthouse calls to you to take up the watch.”

She giggled, light and bubbly, unable to contain herself in the presence of such insanity. “What is this, Mr. Borden? Am I on one of those telly programs that tries to make people look foolish?”

“I am serious, Una.” Cal took off the bracelet and offered it to her. The light intensified as the bauble neared Una. “This is yours now. With it you can carry on the fight and beat back the hordes of creatures that would slither into our world and destroy us all.”

“Show me.”

“I'm sorry?”

Una pushed the bracelet back in his direction. “Show me, then, if it's so magical and you've this great power.”

He turned the green loop over in his hands. It was now dim as a fire's fleeting, final ember. “I can't.”

Just as I thought. “And why not, Mr. Borden?”

“Because my time has come and long since gone. The Band of Nur Al-Thoth will no longer shine for me. Only for its next steward. And that is you, Una. You have been chosen.”

“Me? Dear boy I am eighty-seven years old. I've no more business saving the world than Mr. Sniffles has.”

“Yes, well, I might have come a bit later than I was charged to, marm.”

Una raised an eyebrow so imperiously, the Queen would have quailed. Cal practically withered in the chair. Pleased with this reaction, she said, “Go on.”

“You see, I sent you the Band many years ago. But as happenstance would have it, you had moved to a new home not two weeks previous.”

“Dear boy, I've lived in this house for more than fifty years! Mr. Harcourt and I moved in the day after we were wed.”

Cal stood and began pacing the floor, shoulders forward and his jaw tight. “I might have been waylaid in retrieving the band from the home's new occupants, and other...ventures.”

“Did you stop for a pint at the pub on your way?”

“There was this one bar down in Brighton...” he cut himself off. “Well, the point is that I'm here now. Delivering the news to you. You are to carry the light!”

“No,” Una said flatly.

“What?”

“No. I'll not have your fancy trinket, nor will I suffer further tales of your ineptitude. You may see yourself to the door, Mr. Borden.”

“But, Una, this is the world we're talking about.”

“And you bolloxed things up when you tried to send a powerful relic by post. No, sir, I will have none of any society—secret or otherwise—that boasts you among their number. Out. Out and into the world to pester another. Perhaps you'd better find someone young, fit and gullible to be your new heroine, eh?”

Cal's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, his eyes wide with shock. Finally he said, “This has never happened. In the history of our order, none has balked at the mantle.”

“Well, Mr. Borden, that is hardly my problem. Good day.”

His limbs slack, Cal Borden, scion of the Lighthouse Watch Corps, stepped to the door as one dances to a dirge. Una followed him, cane in her left hand and needles in the right. With his hand on the doorknob, Cal turned to her, his eyes pleading.

“Mrs. Bainbridge-Harcourt, please.”

“Good. Day,” Una barked.

Resigned, Cal hung his head and opened the door. The outside world was obscured by thick mist the color of coal smoke and a Tory's heart. From within the mist came slick black tentacles tipped with dripping barbs and accompanied by a sickening, wet flapping sound.

One of the tentacles shot forward and skewered poor Cal Borden through the heart. Yellow flames, like the headlamps of Hell, burst to life within the cloud, and the creature let out a triumphant shriek. It retracted its tentacle, the effect of which was the limp form of Mr. Borden falling in a heap to the floor at Una's feet. The creature's tentacles wriggled and writhed for a moment, its yellow eyes studying the widow's form with great interest. After some time of deliberation, the decision was made. Tentacles lashed away from her, across the street, where they snaked around cars and lamp posts. Like some horror from a film, the thing propelled itself down the row of houses, gleefully taking aim at the Michaelson boys and their skateboards.

Shrieking filled the air.

Oh, dear, Una thought with a heavy sigh. She bent forward, her bad hip protesting the movement, and unburdened Mr. Borden's body of the green bracelet. It flared to life, casting an emerald glow on the world. On her wrist, the Band of Nur Al-Thoth grew warm. Whispers filled her mind, and in that instant, Una knew what she must do.

She let out a long, weary breath, and put on her hat.

Knitting needles clicking together in her fist she called out, “Come along, Mr. Sniffles. We don't want Millicent to come home to find her miscreant children slain by peculiar demons. Besides, the tea has gone cold.”

 

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Friday Flash - Breton

I know it's late, but I wanted to get this one in today. Patronus Joleen asked for a flash piece about "repentance and forgiveness". This is for her. Also, it's a screen test of sorts for a character who will be appearing in my WiP (working title "The Midwife".) While things may change as I write that story, this is a chance for this character to say hello and introduce himself. So, without further preamble, here's a letter from Breton.  Dear John,

Isn't that how these letters are supposed to start? Letters that you leave when you know you'll never see the recipient again? Appropriate, don't you think, John? It's true, though. By the time you read this I will probably be long gone.

It comes down to this, John: Pedro gave me AIDS. He didn't know it. Fuck, he didn't even know he was positive until we'd been together six months. Thought he got it off a junkie tweaker he had been crashing with in the Village. You didn't see his face when he told me, all shaking. Eyes red. I thought he'd fallen back on old habits, honestly. But he was crying. And not a single tear he shed was for himself. He'd just found out that he was dying a slow, terrible death. He wept, though, for the fact that he'd given me the same fate.

He couldn't forgive himself. Pedro hanged himself three months later. Right about the time the KS lesions started appearing on his stomach.

And you know what, John? It wasn't the AIDS that pissed me off. It was that he checked out the easy way and left me behind.

I can't tell you how often I've thought about doing the same thing. Especially after you and I last spoke. You remember. That time you put your fist through a wall, called me a “cockgobbling faggot” and hoped I learned my lesson in hell?

If there is a Hell for me to go to, it must be right around the corner. I've learned a lot these last days. Coming to terms with what happened between me and Pedro, me and you. I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness—giving it and asking for it. And I want you to know that I have forgiven Pedro. For everything. For the disease, for leaving... I've forgiven him for everything.

And you, Dad, well...

I won't be doing the same kindness for you. I can't. The endless hours of trying to pray away my demons. All of the years you glared at me with disgust. You realize you could field dress a bull moose without curling your nose, but just looking at me churned your stomach. Even before I told you I'm queer, you couldn't keep your loathing secret. Telling you only made things worse. The camps. The shock treatments. Shit out of the Dark Ages.

You don't do that to your blood. Your child.

You don't do that to another human being.

I will not forgive you, nor will I spend my last breaths begging you to understand me. I am what I am. Who I am. A poet. A reckless spirit. A painter. I can dance. I can see the world from the other side. I am your son and you gave that up. You gave up loving me and knowing me. And you've lost your chance to ever do it.

I will not forgive you. I will not apologize for being who I am.

That is all I have to say to you, John. --Your son (even if you refuse to treat me as such.), Breton

 

 

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Friday Flash - Going Down

Hello, my darlings! Life has been...interesting of late. My daughter had the flu and school has started and writing and Kickstarter and and and... *sigh*

So, I have a piece of microflash for you today. The prompt comes from a random first line generator. I really liked this line and may use it again some time just to see all the things that could be done with it. This story, "Going Down", comes in at 416 words. I'd just like to remind you that I am running a Kickstarter to fund UNINVITED the third book in my urban fantasy series, Etudes in C#. Please consider backing it, and please share the link generously.

I'll be writing the next installment in the "Hallowed Grounds" serial soon. This, as you'll remember, is the story I posted here called "Open Mic". You liked the idea of doing more in that world, so that monthly serial will be exclusive to Patreon.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support of my work. On the down days, it means a lot to me.

<3 j.

Going Down

by Jamie Wyman

I'm stuck in a glass elevator with a mime. Again. She closes her eyes and gives a bow, her gloved hand flourishing over the button panel.

“Lobby,” I grumble.

She pushes the button with a star on it, and straightens her spine. Hands in front of her, nose in the air and painted mouth fixed in a scowl of sorts, she looks every bit the cartoon lift operator. The world shifts as we dip down in a controlled plummet from the twenty-third floor.

The trip is short-lived, however, as we stop on twenty-one for a pair of women in glittering micro-dresses. They reek of perfume, hair products and pumpkin spiced latte.

“Lobby,” the taller one says, not even looking in the mime's direction.

I suppose Vegas really does desensitize you to certain things.

We stop again on nineteen for quartet of men, one of whom wears a slew of Mardi Gras beads, and a crown askew on his head. Finally, on six, the target steps into the car.

We're all headed to the lobby, the nine of us packed into the elevator close as could be. The target keeps his eyes forward while the partiers try to chat up the ladies. One of them grins coyly and accepts the attention. The other glances at me for a split second before sneering and turning her made-up face away.

Good. Pay me no notice, girly.

To everyone's surprise but mine, there's a metallic pop. A spray of blood on the gold doors. The target sags to the floor, blood gushing from a wound at his Adam's apple. I'm shoved into the back corner as the other occupants of the elevator scream and push away. One of the women is banging on the glass walls, shrieking for help from the milling crowd below. No one can hear. Though we're encased in a transparent bullet, no one can see.

We land in the lobby with a jolt and as the doors open, the others spill out. I stare down at the target. His eyes meet mine and in this, his last instant, he knows. His lips tremble, he gurgles and he dies.

I put the gun back in the deep pocket of my coat.

The mime is still there, her face a grimace of horror and shock. She opens her mouth and draws a breath as if preparing to speak or scream.

Bringing a finger to my lips, I give her a stern look. “Shh.”

 

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Friday Flash - Open Mic

open micHappy Friday! It's time for some flash fiction! This week's story comes in at 907 words and was loosely inspired by my trip to an open mic night at Sozo Coffee House in Chandler, AZ. It should be noted that it's entirely fiction. Names have not been changed to protect the off-key, nor have I any particular commentary on actual people. The coffee shop in this story is one of my own design, as are its denizens.

I hope you enjoy it. 

Open Mic by Jamie Wyman

Thing about working in a coffee shop is that you get to meet a wide variety of people. Hipsters, soccer moms. The college kid scribbling poetry. The fifty-something typing up his magnum opus. Everyone needs their poison. A bleeding-heart liberal and the staunchest conservative can't work together on policy reform, but by God they agree on how to take their Caramel Machiatto (skim, tall, extra shot). The shop brings in money by serving up the same things to all types.

And at no time is the melting pot nature of Hallowed Grounds more apparent than every third Friday of the month when we throw open the doors to give everyone a shot at 10 minutes on stage.

The line stretches down the block. Musicians, beat poets and stand-up comics all waiting to get on the list so they can try out a new tune, or practice an old bit.

As I make my way up the line, I offer my kindest greetings. Carlos and I share a fist bump.

“White mocha frappe?” I ask. He smiles and nods. Those three words might be the only English the kid understands, but he can sing like Dylan.

“Smiley” Riley sits with her back against the brick wall, plucking at the pink ukelele in her lap. “How was the final?” “Passed!” she beams. “Flying colors!” “How's Brax?” “Teething. Up all night miserable. Poor thing.” “Try frozen bananas. Gives them something to gnaw on and soothes their gums. Sister did it with my niece and it worked like a charm.” Her eyes glitter and it's all the gratitude I need. “Thanks. I'll try that.”

Stepping over instrument cases or napping drummers, I slowly make my way up the line. Petey Ferrell is going to do a speed painting, but he won't tell me of which celebrity icon. Not unless I slip an extra shot of espresso into his Jitterbug. He grins, flashing a gold tooth. The smile makes the teardrop tattoo by his left eye scrunch up.

The goth-Lolita-ska band has all of their instruments and amps at the front of the line. Lisa taps out frenzied rhythms on her thighs, her feet slapping the sidewalk where a pair of kick drums should be. Her make-up is perfection and despite the froth of ruffles, she looks fierce in her costume. Something in the set of her shoulders, though...something isn't right. Problems with Carrie, maybe. They've been on the rocks for months. It's only a matter of time before that relationship explodes. I make a mental note to add a touch of hazelnut to Lisa's chai on the house, just to give it that extra flavor she likes so much. When she smiles, the piercings in her cheek only deepen her dimples. If I can get that look tonight, it will be the best tip I'll get all week.

Then there's Merle. He's gotta be pushing seventy. His skin is that dark, leathery tan that says he spends most days working outside. Liver spots and moles. One or two pink scars that serve as a reminder that Merle not only kicked some ass in Vietnam, he also beat Cancer. Takes his coffee black, but orders a chocolate cupcake almost every time I see him.

“Don't tell the wife,” he says. Every time.

He wears a gold ring on his left hand, but I've never seen him at the shop with anyone but his shadow. When he gets on stage, Merle likes to sing cowboy songs or old prison tunes. And he sounds like the angel of Johnny Cash.

Carlos. Riley. Petey. Lisa. Merle. And scads of others. Some are new this week, their eyes darting around with a nervousness that I can spot a mile away. I'll learn their orders, too. Assuming they come back. They don't always.

The ones who do, though. They stick in my memory. Each of them is a story, and I enjoy getting to know those tales almost as much as I enjoy listening to their music or their poems.

When I finally get into the shop I see Maureen the performance artist is first in line. She's got a cow bell, three Kazoos and a jar of pickles.

“New piece tonight?” I ask her. She nods. “It's something I call 'Octopi Wall Street: A Hentai Love Affair with Money.'” “Can't wait,” I say with a smile.

I slip behind the counter and put on my apron before pulling out a clipboard with The List on it. Right now, each slot is empty. The paper is pristine. Soon, it will be full of scrawled names and at least one signature where the “i” is dotted with a heart.

I ask Maureen, “Can I borrow your cow bell?” She hands it to me along with a drumstick. Clanking away at the bell, I call out, “Alright, folks, The List is up!”

They flock to it. I start making the drinks to get a head start. Carlos's white mocha frappe. Petey's Jitterbug. I pick the best cupcake in the case and set it aside for Merle.

Only after they've signed up do they come back to me and place their orders. Between steaming milk and pouring chai, I take a look at them, my beautifully diverse sea of humanity. My regulars and my newcomers. Spending time with them like this? It's precious.

The only decision left to make now is which one to kill.

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Friday Flash - Teeth

gaslamp whitechapelHeylo, 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?”

“A fortnight.”

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.”

“Wife? Children?”

“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.



 

Those pictures that prompted this story.... WARNING one of them is rather graphic. teeth prompt 1 teeth prompt 2

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