Sunday, October 28, 2007


I was clearing out my metaphysical drawers (hard drive) and found an old short story that hasn't been published anywhere. So I've put it up here. It needs some work, but you get the idea. Enjoy.


By Adam J. Shardlow

Tobias Small had never accepted that the creature completely owned him. Free will, strength and determination, plus his abounding belief in the power of the Lord, had helped him remain liberated. But the chance to resume the persona for one night, while at the same time bringing a solution to his daughter’s financial circumstances was more than he could resist. Every other avenue had been considered, his thoughts keeping him awake late into the night, while his prayers remaining unanswered. He knew he had no choice.
The creature would once again be unleashed, initiating an evening of panic and mischief. Again the dark muttering in the street of a creature foul and ancient would haunt him and the realisation of what he had done would cause him anguish and a desire to be penitent.
It was time for Springheel Jack to return.
Though the name was still spoken of with due reverence, it was becoming less and less likely to tumble from trembling lips. Instead it had become a story to frighten small children tucked up in bed, a fable of times gone by.
He had kept the monstrous suit, hidden behind a sliding panel in his room, well oiled and maintained; the skin had been repaired when necessary and kept supple. The tightly sprung boots were sound while the mask, with its daemonic grin and painted horns looked as new as the day it had been created from the skull of some lesser creature.
Sometimes at night, from the safety of his bed he could hear the mask calling him, mocking him, daring him to once more wear the outlandish costume and resume the mayhem. But he had been strong and refused to let the devilish creature take full reign and allow wicked thoughts to manifest themselves in his mind.
He was not evil or malicious; in truth he had created Springheel as a way of getting even, a response to all the cruel practical jokes played on him by those who were meant to be his friends. As a scholarship boy at school he had always been treated as an inferior, those with money deemed him nothing more than a servant. They would taunt him with names such as ‘Small Change’ or ‘Small Pockets’, forever mocking his impoverished circumstances.
Standing at the back of church one Sunday, listening to the ranting of the God fearing priest, the idea of Springheel had lurched fully formed into his imagination as if placed their by God himself. Now he knew the idea must have come from the Devil. Born for retribution, Jack was a creature of the night that played on superstitions and fears.
Shrouded in darkness Springheel would launch himself from the rooftops into the path of an unsuspecting witness. He would choose a daughter of his now adult school friends. Landing by her side, the creature would make a great play of screaming and snorting, flexing long bone claws and rolling globulous eyes. Hysterical at the sight of this denizen of hell, the girl would more often than not faint leaving the creature to take a token of appreciation and as witnesses arrived on the scene the monster would leap high into the fog and disappear accompanied only by the sound of malevolent laughter.
The following morning Tobias Small would hide his face in shame and wince at the cries of the barrow boys who hollered the dramatic headlines, ‘The Devil is among us’ or ‘A Daemon in Aldwych’. He knew it was sin, but felt powerless to stop. As Jack he felt more alive and more powerful than those who had once dared to taunt him but at the same time he felt wretched for those he scared and humiliated.
As time wore on he discovered that Jack had only to put in an appearance every few months to keep the stories alive, which grew in stature and detail, until his exploits became penny fictions and Springheel Jack was turned into a mythical apparition, forever on the hunt for the souls of the defenceless.
Lucy, his daughter, had come to him recently with a young looking man in tow to request permission to marry. The boy had spoken nervously of his love for the girl, and his plans for the future. Coming from a good family the marriage seemed suitable but a dowry of some kind would be expected and Small knew he had little to give. Lucy’s heart was set on the union and he hated to think that he might disappoint his only daughter.
He had thought long and hard on the issue and it was late at night, just before sleep claimed him that he once more heard the voice of Jack. The creature reminded him that it was perfectly able to get into the houses of the rich, and in return for a night of mischief, money or goods could be found to pay for the wedding. For Small, the chance to revive the daemon became irresistible.


He wore the suit under his work clothes and walked to the house. He did not wish to be spotted too early and risk a hue and cry. Small had selected his target carefully; a wealthy American doctor by the name of John Chalice had a practise in Belgravia. He spent a good portion of his time abroad, travelling Europe with his property locked tight but empty. It would be little trouble to Springheel to fashion entry through a skylight and under the cover of darkness search the doctor’s house for loot.
Later, having completed the crime, Springheel would dance between the chimneys pots and roof tops, while Small would await the morning headlines with dread.
In a small park where the tall trees shivered in the breeze, Small removed his outer garments and retrieved from his bag the long fingered claws, the short cape shaped into the wings of a bat and the mask of the daemon. Hidden from prying eyes, he placed each item reverently upon himself and Springheel Jack was released.
It stood for a moment, a night prowler tasting the air, deep ruby eyes open wide, nostril flared while sniffing. Content that it was alone, it moved with an outlandish grace into the open where it bends slowly, its hideous countenance turned to the sky. It took two tiny steps as if testing the ground and then launched itself free of the earth. Air rushed past the creature, arms out for balance, cloak stretched tight like rodent wings, it fires upwards in a parabola, legs bent as if a hawk coming in for the kill.
Reaching the zenith it alters position, aiming for a rooftop, a small alteration and it lands. Silhouetted against the night sky the creature freezes into position, its shadow takes on that of an ancient gargoyle that looks out on the brick and stone of the great city.
It moves now, carefully inching its way up the roof line towards a small set of windows that are dark within. It dances with cat like precision, tentatively testing each roof tile for fault before placing weight upon it. Between the windows sill one talon is slipped, the lock snapped apart. It opens the window carefully and with a final look behind, the creature of the night slips inside.
It was darker within. Rough floorboards under foot and dust in the air. It smells dry, unused and empty, an attic room. Moving forward the wood creaks underfoot, unaccustomed to the weight. If anyone is in the house they would hear the sound, but all is quiet.
The creature traces the trap door in the floor, it is pushed open and Springheel peers down into the gloom. It sits on the rim and swings down landing on all fours with feet splayed. It smells down here. Sniffing at the air the creature can detect a definite fetid reek. Perhaps something has died while the doctor was away, a rat or a pigeon that got locked inside.
Eyes adjust and Springheel spies four doors - four rooms to look through. The first contains nothing of importance, a guest room perhaps. The bed is unmade, the furniture covered with dust sheets, the wardrobe empty.
The second is also a bedroom, a man’s room, unfussy, neat. The good doctor is a bachelor and it shows. The bed has a single dip in the middle, the scent is male. Again nothing to take, the only decoration being a poor painting and a carriage clock, while a few dusty medical manuals stand next to the bed.
The third room is more interesting. It's smaller, a study. A desk with papers and a library of books. The smell is stronger in here; it’s a putrid organic stench. There is a small fireplace in the corner; perhaps it comes from within. With no time to check the creature moves to the desk and looks through the drawers, eyes alight on a silver cigarette case; it disappears into a hidden pocket.
A sound. Springheel turns slowly, conscious of its own beating heart. The noise came from behind it, small and indistinct yet audible. It turns, senses alert. All is quiet again. It can wait, it’s good at waiting. It had sounded like footfall and perhaps a muffled exclamation.
Now it stands and moves forward. There is a curtain at the far end of the study, deep red, the colour evident even in the dark. It pulls the curtain to one side to reveal another door.
What treasure must the doctor hide in the concealed room beyond? It places a hand on the door knob but then hesitates; the sound came from this room. Should it enter? Should it risk being seen? But it needs the money and this desire drives the beast onwards. It presses the handle down and enters.
The smell makes the creature gag, a wave of nausea forcing it to hold an arm to its face. It wants to be sick. In the darkness, a windowless room scrubbed bare something evil, something dead lurks.
All senses dictate that it should leave this room, turn and flee, return to the night but at the same time the hidden makes it curious.
The smell is making it hard to breath and it is hot inside the mask, but the creature has no desire to be seen in its true form. It must remain an enigma.
There is a lamp on the desk, it returns and it picks it up and takes out a strike. It flares, the light burns at the retina and leaves dancing scars. The lamp gutters but then takes, there is not much oil left.
It enters the room and turns up the light. Bare brick and stone floors, no windows to let in light – a secret place, hidden from prying eyes. There is a clinical feel to the room, a place of surgery. A tray on the side contains knives, scalpel and saws. They are stained pink, a long blond hair it attached to a blade, it moves in the breeze from the open door.
There is a trolley in the room, something covered with a sheet stained black and brown. There is no sense in looking but something makes the creature take a tentative step forward, and then another and another until it stands within an arms length.
It checks behind and decides to risk a peek, just quickly and then it will vanish back into the night with its spoils.
It lifts the sheet, higher, higher and then pulls.
The creature shrinks back from the horror. A body, once female lays open, slit from abdomen to chest; the head pushed back, the neck arched while the face is set in a mask of agony, a scream etched into eyes and the open mouth. Naked, mutilated, treated like a base carcass, strips of skin removed from belly and thighs, incisions across breasts that ooze dark clotted blood.
It is too much, what terror has been uncovered, what perversity? The body moves. An intake of air, a gasp that erupts in spittle and blood. The girl lives, she knows someone is present, someone who might be able to help. She thrashes, her body making an involuntary spasm, the last dance of those sliced open and left to die slowly. Eyes blink and breath rattles in her throat, eyes pleading for any death.
As it watches, transfixed with disgust the creature is grabbed from behind. Strong arms lift the lithe daemon from the floor as a fist is punched deep into its side, forcing all the air from it. A scalpel is waved in front of its face and then held close to its throat as the girl begins to slow. Old wounds have reopened and pumped livid blood across the floor, skin gapes wide and innards are revealed, they snake out accompanied by a breathy scream. The girl falls back as death claims her.
The mask is ripped from him as an arm spins Tobias round and a giant fist slams into his face, his own blood erupts now, it splutters from his nose and enters his mouth. He is pushed into a wall and falls to the floor. Still winded he vomits copiously, adding to the slaughterhouse stench. Tears sting his eyes as he looks up at his tormentor.
The doctor stares down at the revealed daemon and is unimpressed. He pushes at him with his foot moving the man from side to side. He smiles and speaks in a voice that is quiet but firm.
"A man in a pitiful suit with a sheep skull for a mask. Is this the creature that women talk of in hushed tones? Is this the horror that stalks the city of London? I thought you would be so much more, but I see nothing more than a cheap parlour trick."
Tobias Small looks up into the eyes of the doctor and sees his own fear reflected back. He is scarred, horrified by this evil that preys on the innocent.
The monster laughs out loud, a howl of pleasure.
"What was there to be scared of? Springheel Jack - an old man hiding in the dark. It's pathetic. This great city deserves something far better, the greatest place on Earth, the heart of the Empire and the best we can come up with, to keep the shits and whores down, is you?"
He comes closer. Small can smell the stench of death on him, his walking cloak, the weave of the wool splattered with drying blood. The doctor wields the scalpel with a practised hand.
"I plan to do so much better. When they speak my name they will truly know fear, I will become something altogether evil, something straight from hell."
The man bends and Small feels the blade sting at the thin skin of his neck and knows that the doctor will replace Springheel and bring a red death to the city.
"I like the name though. Can I borrow it?"
Before Small can even answer the blade cuts deep into his flesh.
A new Jack is born.

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