Wednesday, 13 April 2011

FOOL'S GOLD - Recommended for BFA BEST SHORT FICTION



Fool’s Gold
By
Sam Stone


The blood was what first alerted me to the problem. It just smelt wrong. So I dipped my finger in the congealing pool and lifted some to my lips. It tasted like milk with all the cream and goodness sucked out. It was missing something. At that point I wasn’t sure what.
            I’d been experimenting with blood for years. It was, after all, crucial to my survival. I’d realised that there were several types of blood, and each had a unique flavour. My favourite, and most rare, was later called Rhesus negative. It had a citric bite to it that appealed more to my once human taste than the sweeter ‘O’ positive – the common variety. Of course, when I was starving I didn’t really care. But once I found Rhesus, it became a luxury I occasionally indulged in.
            The dead girl’s blood, though, lacked nutrition. All the integrity had been removed. I was hungry, but I knew after one taste, that this thin, watery substance would never sustain me.
            ‘Mmmm. Interesting,’ I murmured.
            I heard a Peeler’s whistle in the distance. Someone had raised the alarm. The girl must have died screaming. Not surprising really since her guts had been ripped out. It was obvious that the throat wound was there to shut her up; I’d have done the same.
            I blended into the cold, damp fog and slipped into the shadows hanging around the nearest house as two Bobbies rounded the corner. For a moment their appearance was supernatural. The denseness of the air clung to the uniforms until one of them almost skidded in the rapidly spreading spillage and they came to a halt before the body. I shrunk back deeper into the mist: it wouldn’t be good for them to find something like me at the scene. They stared at the body for a long moment, as though paralysed, and then one of them turned his head and abruptly vomited on the floor. The other took off his tall hat and rubbed his forehead while wrinkling his nose in disgust at the odour his colleague had created.
            ‘Jeee-zuss, Hobbs,’ he said. ‘That’s a sorry mess if ever I saw one.’
            Hobbs dry heaved, his hands on his thighs.
            ‘Pull yourself together.’
            The Peeler who’d spoken placed his hat back on his head and pulled out his pocket watch. He tutted, then began tapping his foot impatiently until his weak-stomached partner pulled himself upright, his trembling hand outstretched to the wall beside him as he steadied himself.
            ‘I’m alright,’ Hobbs murmured. ‘Just took me by surprise is all …’
            ‘Well you better get over here and help me, ’cos I’m not examining her alone,’ the other replied.
            Shaking, Hobbs wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
            ‘Yes, Bennett. I’m going to help … like I said, just shock is all.’
            Bennett waited impatiently as Hobbs fiddled with his tie, tugged his black jacket down and brushed invisible marks from his uniform while trying to compose himself. He’d already lost face with his senior colleague; he didn’t want to lose anymore.
            ‘So, what d’you think?’ asked Hobbs.
            Bennett crouched down; the air billowed around him as he unwittingly mimicked my gesture as he touched a chubby finger to the blood. ‘Still warm. He’s nearby I reckon. Bet the murdering bastard is watching us even now.’
            Hobbs grew pale. Self-consciously I looked around. I hadn’t even thought of that and I wondered now if the killer had seen me kneel down and taste his victim’s blood. Careless.
            ‘Same bloke?’ Hobbs asked stepping forward with renewed curiosity, all sign of his earlier revulsion dissipated. A sickening gleam came into his eyes as he began to survey the crime scene.
            ‘I think so,’ said Bennett, his mouth set into a thin line of distaste as he studied the woman’s wounds.
            ‘D’you think the papers will print our names?’
            Bennett turned his head and glared at Hobbs for a moment. Hobbs didn’t notice as he moved closer to the body. 
Her throat was severed by two deep cuts, as though the first strike had failed to silence her. Her blood had dripped down her low cut dress and over her bosom. It drew a line down to her abdomen where a long, uneven wound ripped through the faded and soiled dress, leaving a gaping, bloody hole. I’d noticed that some of her organs had been removed. The left kidney and a large part of her uterus were missing. The killer must have taken them for some perverse reason of his own.
‘This don’t look the same as the other one we found,’ Hobbs sulked. ‘I think it’s a different killer.’
‘No,’ Bennett answered. ‘Look. It’s the knife wounds on the neck ... Bet he was disturbed on the other one, that’s why he done this one.’
Bennett turned the woman’s head. The left side of her face was slashed. The knife had cut so deep that part of her skull was visible. A clump of hair and flesh was sliced away right down to her eyebrow, where her eye stared sightlessly from its socket. A thick red jell slipped from the eye and down her cheek last a glutinous, bloody tear. 
‘Fuck!’ Bennett gasped, pulling back his hand in disgust.
Hobbs looked on dumbly as Bennett began to blow his whistle. In response several running feet could be heard from all sides of Whitechapel and soon more Peelers poured into Mitre Square.
I pulled a hood over my blonde curls and slipped away into the fog as the police surrounded the dead girl. No one noticed me, and if they had all they would have seen was a petite woman in a black cloak – nothing like the killer they were focussed on finding. But then appearances could be deceptive.

‘Extra! Extra! Read all about it! “Double Event” as two more killed in Whitechapel.’
 I paid the newsboy and tucked the paper under my arm before crossing the busy street to a small park where I sat on my favourite bench. The fog from the previous night had lifted and the late September sun was shining weakly. I placed the paper across my knees and looked around. The park was quiet. It was as though the locals were afraid to be out alone, even in broad daylight. London was in a state of panic.
I shook the paper, straightening out the wrinkles with a small, gloved hand. ‘Jack’ had struck again. This time they were calling it, ‘The Double Event’. There had been two deaths that night. Elizabeth Stride, found in Dutfield’s Yard, and apparently the woman I’d found in Mitre Square had been called Catherine Eddowes.

Jack claims two more in a double event. Four women dead so far …

The newspaper referred to them as women of ‘questionable virtue’ as though the common terms of ‘whore’ or the slightly subtler name of ‘prostitute’ was too offensive for their readers. I looked back at the street again where the newsboy was rapidly selling his stack to passers-by. Humans loved the macabre. This was the most exciting news they’d had in a long time and the virtuous had no need to fear. They could hide at night, peeping through their shuttered windows while the destitute, like Annie Chapman, Jack’s second victim, became nothing more than a ghoulish fascination. Perhaps tour guides would soon be touting for the ‘Walk of Fear’ to new world visitors and morbid locals.
Through the ages, serial killers had never been my concern, but one that could change the composition of blood, that was something else entirely. And so I had returned to the scene, shortly after the police took away Catherine Eddowes’ body, and scraped up some of the dried blood that stained the pavement.
Back in my lab I’d mixed the blood with water to create a soft paste and smeared it roughly on a slide. Under the keen lens of the microscope the blood had revealed some interesting facts. It was decomposing faster than usual because, as I’d expected, the composite had changed. The red blood cells were severely depleted. This was the most severe case of hypochromic anaemia I’d ever seen. One of the main minerals that helped the red blood cells reproduce, iron, was completely absent from Eddowes’ blood. This accounted for the thin, tasteless, watery remains. If Eddowes’ injuries hadn’t killed her then the iron deficiency would have.
‘Miss Collins.’
I looked up from the paper and found my lawyer approaching across the park.
‘Good morning, Mr Perry,’ I answered smiling.
‘Good Lord, you aren’t reading that gruesome stuff, are you?’
‘One has to keep abreast with the times. Besides it is important to be reminded that the streets of London are no fit place for a woman at night,’ I continued, giving him the ‘expected’ answer.
‘What a sensible young woman you are Miss Collins. Really one would believe at times that you held the wisdom of years in your youthful person.’
I smiled politely at his patronising tone.
‘Of course, I know that your father was a doctor of some note and I understand he did some pioneering research. I suppose that explains your interest in such things.’
‘Indeed, Mr Perry. Blood has long interested me,’ I remarked with a slight smile as I stood, leaving the newspaper on the bench.
‘May I escort you home?’ Perry said, offering his arm.
I glanced down at the paper, which was still open on the story. Inspector Frederick Abberline said, “We have many leads and several suspects that are helping us with our enquiries …”
Interesting. Now I knew Freddie was involved I just had to shadow the police investigation. It would assuage my curiosity if nothing else and I’ll confess to feeling a little nervous knowing there was a monster in town that was capable of contaminating my food source.
‘Miss Collins?’
I looked back at Perry and found him scrutinising me carefully. Obediently I slipped my hand into the crook of his elbow. We walked slowly away from the park.
‘Mr Perry, have you any news on the offer I made to purchase the house in Covent Garden?’ I asked, quickly changing the subject.
‘Why yes. That is precisely why I was so pleased to see you.’


‘I don’t understand why this is of interest to you,’ Frederick Abberline said.
            He was sitting behind his desk trying hard to look professional, but I noticed the slight tremble of his tightly clasped hands as he placed them before him. Oh yes, Freddie would tell me everything I needed to know. I smiled.
            ‘Freddie, you know I’ve always been curious about your work. Do you really have suspects?’
            ‘Miss Collins … Lucy. I can’t discuss police matters with you. That would be highly inappropriate.’
            Frederick kept his face serious; it was part of his appeal. When he was angry with me he always took on the austere countenance of a bank manager and he had good cause to be annoyed. I hadn’t been near him for months.
            ‘Freddie …’ I moved closer, touched his arm.
            ‘Oh my God, Lucy,’ he cried as his composure broke.
His hands reached for me as he tried to rise from his chair to take me in his arms.
            I stayed him with one hand on his shoulder, pressing him firmly back into his seat.
            ‘No.’
            ‘When? When will you take from me again?’ he begged.
            I’d fed from Freddie several times over the years. We’d met on the streets before his promotion to Inspector. He’d mistaken me for one of the local whores until I bit him and drew his sweet nectar into my mouth for the first time. Frederick was the walking blood bank of my favourite brand. My luxury. My Rhesus donor. Though I’d made the mistake of revisiting him too often and now he was somewhat addicted to my bite; he craved it and unlike my other donors, he always remembered it. 
            ‘Soon, Freddie. But you know it can’t be too often,’ I soothed.
            ‘Tonight, please …’
            I looked into his eyes knowing if I wanted to I could take every little bit of information about the case directly from his mind. But that wouldn’t be much fun and I was starving; I hadn’t eaten in days.
            ‘All right. You help me and I will help you.’
            He pulled me to him and I let him kiss me. I didn’t remind him about Emma, his wife. That would have been too cruel, even for me.


I walked the streets of Whitechapel every night for more than a month but all remained quiet. It seemed that Jack’s frantic killings had ceased and it wasn’t long before the whores of the city fell into a false sense of security once more. Even so, many had ceased doing trade out in the open. As I searched the city, I rarely saw the frantic rutting in the back alleys and corners of quiet streets anymore. The girls were taking clients back to their tiny hovels now. The occasional drunk and the Bobby on the beat were the only midnight occupants of the mausoleum streets.
‘What are you doing out on your own, Miss?’
The Peeler was standing under a gaslight watching me quietly. He looked jaded. He was holding a small lump of rock, which he turned over and over in his fingers in a subconscious gesture to allay his boredom. The light hit the rock as it moved; it had the shine of precious metal.
‘Nice respectable lady like you shouldn’t be out here with that monster on the loose,’ he continued.
‘I’m not afraid of monsters,’ I answered quietly.
‘Here. Where you from? That’s a nice little accent you got there. French are you?’
‘Italian.’ I smiled walking towards him. I was suddenly very hungry.
‘Long ways from home then?’
‘Yes.’
He continued to play with the rock as I approached him. I reached out and held his hand briefly, taking the stone from his compliant fingers. His mouth opened and froze in an ‘O’ shape as he met my gaze. I knew the gaslight would make the green in my eyes seem like cool fire.
‘What is this?’ I asked, opening my hand to gaze down at the rock.
His paralysis broke.
‘Fool’s gold,’ he smiled. ‘There are bits of the stuff scattered all over the city.’
The rock gleamed. It was hard with shiny brass-yellow crystals peppering its surface. It looked and felt like a gold nugget.
‘It’s iron see,’ continued the Bobby. ‘Something happens to it to make it look like gold. Then a “fool” might believe it’s the real thing.’
I knew what fool’s gold was but I let him speak.  
‘… and you’re no fool are you?’ I flirted. ‘You say there have been many of these found around the city?’
‘Yes. The Chief said it’s because of the meteor shower we had a few months ago. D’you remember that Miss?’
I nodded. I remembered the night well. It was in mid May, I was out hunting when the sky lit up and tiny balls of flame flew across London. I knew instantly that a small meteor had entered the Earth’s atmosphere and was breaking up. It was quite a display, reminding me of the fireworks on Queen Victoria’s coronation day.
‘Reckon we are only just finding the remains of it now,’ he continued. ‘Keep it if you like.’
I looked at the Bobby. He wasn’t very old, maybe twenty-five. I sniffed the foggy, damp air around him. Despite the freezing, autumn weather, his body smelt warm in his big coat. I could feel the rush of blood in his veins as he noticed my scrutiny. I dropped the hood of my cloak back off my golden hair and felt the gaslight touch my scalp.
‘You’re a very pretty lady,’ he said quietly. ‘If you don’t mind me saying.’
‘I find you very appealing too.’ I was famished and the pull of his blood made tiny hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
I stepped back out of the halo of the gaslight into the shadows as my teeth began to lengthen. The Bobby followed me meekly. I slipped the nugget of fool’s gold into a pocket inside my cloak and took his hand. His body began to shudder as he felt the waves of blood lust trickle into his skin. I pulled him into a nearby alley and pressed him against the wall rubbing my body against him in a desperate gesture as I sniffed at his throat again. His blood smelt clean. One had to be so careful these days. His hands were inside my cloak and all over my body. I let him touch; it meant nothing to me as long as I fulfilled my needs. I felt his hand lifting my skirt and he spun us around so that I was now against the wall. With one hand, he reached down and unbuttoned himself, then yanked roughly at my undergarments until they fell around my ankles. He knelt then, helping me disentangle one leg from my pantaloons. He obviously used the whores on a regular basis and knew just what to do.
He lifted my legs, bracing me against the wall, and wrapped them around his waist, pushing inside me as hard and fast as he could. I let him rut for a moment, while I licked his throat. He shuddered at my touch. His sweat tasted of salt. I could feel the blood rushing beneath the skin, throbbing there. I listened to its call until I couldn’t bear it any more.  When I grew bored of having my back pounded into the hard wall, I sank my fangs deep into his straining neck. I sighed with pleasure. He went flaccid immediately and his member slipped uselessly from me. He slumped against me. I was powerfully excited and I gripped my legs hard around him as I swallowed the blood I needed until I felt the strength leave his limbs. Then I put one leg down to steady us as he weakened. His eyes fluttered closed, and his mouth smiled in pleasure, as I gently licked at his throat. My saliva closed the puncture marks and stilled the flow of blood. 
I propped him up against the wall and kneeled between his legs, buttoning him up before I left him. He’d wake with a headache and the vague memory of having been with a whore in the alley – nothing more. There wouldn’t be any marks by morning.
I pulled my cloak tight around me as I walked away and I felt the fool’s gold bounce against my leg. I took the rock from my pocket. Smelt it. Licked it. Iron: one of the flavours I liked most in blood, and, let’s be honest, after three hundred years of living on it; I am a bit of a connoisseur. I knew there had to be a link. Iron was missing from the victim’s blood and fool’s gold was being found around the city. But what did it mean?
I’d persuaded Freddie Abberline to let me see the body of the other victim, Elizabeth Stride. There had been a distinct lack of iron in her blood too, but not as much as Catherine Eddowes, which confirmed the police assumption that the killer had been disturbed while working on the first one. But I couldn’t explain to Freddie what I knew, even though I wanted to help him solve the crime. The thing was, if this person – and I suspected it wasn’t human at all – was able to drain one of the most important nutrients from blood, then its very existence was a threat to my future. I had every intention of finding him or her before the police did. There was only room for one monster in London and that was going to be me.


‘There was another one last night,’ Freddie said, as we lay naked in the large double bed of my suite at The Waldorf. ‘It was the worst I’ve yet seen.’
            ‘Mutilated?’ I asked licking his throat gently. The bite wounds in his neck healed and faded until two pale pink scars remained.
            ‘Yes,’ Freddie sighed, as he snuggled deeper into my arms, ‘and …he’d slit her throat until he’d almost cut her head clean off.’
            ‘I see.’
            On the 9th November, ‘Jack’ had struck again. It was Saturday afternoon when I heard the news of Mary Jane Kelly’s brutal murder at Miller’s Court. Freddie told me how the girl’s abdomen was emptied of most of her vital organs.
‘The killer even took the heart this time,’ he continued.
            ‘It seems more frantic, more desperate.’
            ‘Yes. That’s what we think. I’m dreading the next one. But how much more can he possibly do to them?’
            ‘It’s interesting how you say “he”,’ I murmured. ‘Couldn’t the killer be of any gender?’
            Freddie stared at me, horrified.
            ‘No, I can’t even bear to think that. To consider a man capable of such brutality is one thing. I couldn’t even contemplate that kind of sickness in a female!’
            If only Freddie knew. A monster can appear in any guise. I was a classic example. I supposed he thought my penchant for drinking blood was a sexual perversity but I hadn’t always allowed my victims to live. Humans have such a selective grasp on reality.


That evening I went to Miller’s Court and surveyed the crime scene. A policeman had been posted outside, presumably to keep the curious away, but I waited until he left his post for a hot toddy at the nearby tavern, and slipped in unseen.
The room was tiny. Mary Kelly had lived a solitary life in a single room with little more furniture than a bed, a small sideboard and a tiny table with one chair. Near the open fire was a small pot that she used to cook her meagre meals. Kelly had been all but destitute, like most women on the streets, but she at least had a dry place to sleep.
There was a strong odour in the room. Metallic. I touched the blood-soaked mattress of the bed. The blood was in the same condition as the other victims I’d seen, thin and depleted. I bent and sniffed the bed, detecting the iron deficiency and then something glittering caught my eye. I turned to look at the fireplace. Among the ashes of the now dead fire, something gleamed. I walked to the fireplace and looked down. All that glitters is not gold … A large lump of fool’s gold, oddly shaped like a human heart, blinked in the soot as light from the street filtered in through the slightly parted curtains on the window.  I scooped it up and rubbed the ash away on the corner of my skirt. Black blood oozed over my fingers. I looked closely. So this was Mary Kelly’s heart, oxidised and transformed, half iron, half human flesh. I dropped the mutated flesh back into the ashes and knelt to light the fire. I wanted to burn this monstrosity.  
The fireplace was big and the chimney wide and sprawling. I heard the wind howling across the top and felt a breeze filter down into the room as I reached for the half open box of matches on the hearth. I lit a taper and glanced up into the chimney but could only see as far as the first bend. It had been newly swept but a tiny glittering fragment could be seen perched on the corner. And then there was another gleam of light there.
I frowned. Something moved. I heard a shifting deep inside the chimney and a fine dusting fell on my upturned face.
Then, golden eyes opened to stare down the chimney.
I fell back seconds before a knife-like iron claw swung at my face leaving a trail of rust particles in the air in its wake. The creature crawled down towards me, its imposing, impossibly stiff, wormlike body clattering down. Bits of iron pyrite broke off into the fireplace as it emerged with a mournful cry.
I backed away and in the shadow of the room I could barely make out the creature before the front part of its body reared up before me. The head almost touched the ceiling. The torso was a deformed mess. I could see human organs, partially absorbed, protruding from its body. A female uterus, the fallopian tubes ripped and jaggedly unattached were sprouting from the arm of the creature, and I realised that the monster had been digesting the organs somehow. A claw swung again. I dived to the left, rolling across the room. The arm smashed into the wall, shattering the sharp blade at the end of the appendage. The monster roared in rage and pain. Howling, it rolled and thrashed on the floor, smashing its snake-like body into the furniture. This made the being cry all the louder. I stepped back and crushed myself against the door narrowly avoiding the claw that reached for me. This time its arm smashed against the window, breaking a pane of glass while ripping the curtains from the wall. Gaslight poured in through the exposed window with a rush of cold, foggy air. The being groaned and writhed as the damp air swirled around it. Swivelling and writhing the creature tried to drag its damaged body back to the fireplace.
It all began to make sense. Fog stung the alien body like acid; corroding and rotting the metallic limbs even as I watched. Every particle of the iron-based composition was rusting away. The smog and damp of the London atmosphere was poison and, I speculated, this was just the final stages of a deterioration that had been occurring with frequent exposure: this explained the insatiable need to replenish iron and the fool’s gold deposits all over the city. On instinct, I edged to the window, twisted the catch and threw the window as wide open as I could.
A gust of wind rushed into and through the room. The monster thrashed and doubled over. A damp miasma poured in, as though drawn to the creature like a magnet. The smog settled over the head and torso, eliciting a cry so sorrowful that my heart could not help but respond to the agonised sob. The creature tried to nurse broken and decaying limbs against a collapsing body. The fool’s gold glint gradually dulled to brown rust as the metal oxidised. The pained cries ceased. Golden eyes glared in fury from a bulbous, deformed head as the carcass shrivelled.  I sank to the floor below the window and watched.
An hour or more passed. No one came despite the commotion and I reasoned that they must have been too afraid, or that the lure of the tavern was too great on a cold night. The being had shrunk dramatically and now resembled a large, half-human foetus. The stolen human vital organs fell away as it rusted. I looked into a gaze that cried out to me. The monster wanted to live. In a flash of empathy I realised that this was nothing more than an alien child, probably stranded during the recent meteor shower.
Hunger and the will to survive drove even humans to animalistic instincts. I understood that more than most. The deaths of the women were borne of desperation. ‘Jack the Ripper’ was a starving baby, who only wanted was to be fed the basic nutrients it needed in order to endure.
The creature’s eyes dimmed as its body oxidised. The damp, misty air from the chimney and window continued to blow around the body. The alien’s chest cavity crumpled inwards, a burst of red dust puffing up into the atmosphere as its final breath huffed from the open torso. The being’s slash-shaped maw gaped in a final silent cry and the fool’s gold light went out from the pitiful gaze. With a shudder, the corpse disintegrated into a pile of red-brown rust.
I looked closely at the remains. A breeze picked up outside and a rush of air came down the chimney. I glanced back up the flue. I could only surmise that the creature had sought heat and warmth where it could, even as the damp, London fog had slowly oxidized the alien flesh until it rotted away to nothing. The agony of the alien child’s death reverberated in my mind. A confusion of inarticulate screams left my body aching as I shook my head in a subconscious gesture. I wanted to wipe away all that I’d heard in those last few moments, but the memory stayed with me long into the night.
            Opening the door I let more of the London fog. On the floor the rust stirred and dispersed. Swirling like fallen leaves in the strong autumn breeze, the dust scattered, leaving no trace of the monster that had once been.
            Leaving Kelly’s house I headed into the fog. In the tavern I could see the bobby, who’d tired of guarding the crime scene, enjoying a drink in the company of several women of the night. ‘Jack’ was no more, and yet no one in this world but me would ever know who or what he had been.
            I felt no remorse.
            There really is room for only one monster in the city.

2 comments:

nilling said...

Great short story with lots of twists - good luck in the BFS competition!

Sam Stone said...

Thank you! Glad you like it - I love a Ripper story don't you?