Elegant tapers summon spirits, illuminating obscurity.
Elegant tapers summon spirits, illuminating obscurity.
They spoke of crossing over. The nebulous abyss where flesh meets ellipsis where all is suspended yet worlds create a spectrum of connected mind.
Do you miss them?
I do, I said. And I know for I have lost many.
Brought down in candlelight clean white hospital sheets silent drip padded sneakers of nurses in the hall.
I care for dusty remnants fresh flowers moss covered stone. Urns and ashes dates and places to remind me
they have left
Jack: They called it murder but I called it art.
I lurked in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. The bevy of beautiful women I selected as specimens were perhaps unsuspecting of my talents. The good people of London were unsuspecting as well. Yet as that month of September, 1888 passed, after I had skillfully managed to dissect and disembowel four women, leaving their remains to decorate Whitechapel like human canvasses, it occurred to me; the locals now had great expectations of my work. I had become a skilled artist in the medium of human flesh.
Why did I do it? Ah, I am quite sure the gentleman at Scotland Yard would love to know the answer to that. Why indeed? I did it with purpose! It was sublime and beautiful, this sight of torn flesh. The rushing scarlet that trickled from their necks as I first pricked my knife. The red river that flowed across their clavicles. Once the blood began to pour I was insatiable in my creation. Like a painter’s brush I wielded my dagger, deeper and deeper until I hit solid bone. I could not stop till I’d sliced their torsos clean open.
None can say I was not appreciated! The women appreciated me. If you doubt my words merely consider their case: They were tramps and trollops, living in the squalor of the east end, perpetually drunk on tuppence gin, ever fading into the obscurity of their tragic and unimportant lives. Never before had they received so much attention as they did after I made human sculptures of them! Were it not for me, I daresay the five of them — Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly — would have vanished into obscurity. The life of a penniless prostitute is seldom noticed.
But I, in my sacrifice, had elevated them to stardom! I had edified and glorified them. You doubt me? Allow me to offer proof: The newspaper staff came immediately to take photographs of the remains, did they not? My art was therefore preserved for all of posterity. Once the flesh has wasted away what is left? The image, of course! Forever kept within the confines of halide and silver, undisputed evidence of my talents, for none could wield a blade as well as I.
If you need further convincing, I beg you imagine: The lovely Annie Chapman. Oh, she was a vision as she lay there in the alley. It was I who took the trouble to skillfully place Annie’s intestines around her shoulders. She was naked, of course. Instead of the fine garments which she could never afford, our dear Annie departed from this earth with the natural adornments of her own bowels. It was quite breathtaking. A sight which precious few are ever privileged to see.
Imagine another. Catherine Eddows. A woman so lovely that I saw fit to remove her uterus. What say you? I am sick and deranged? Oh no dear reader, not I. The uterus, you see, is the very source of life itself. None can argue that. There walks not a woman on the face of this planet who would not want her uterus displayed for all to admire! I know this is so, for I, unlike most men, am sensitive to the needs of the gentle sex.
To make things doubly interesting, the womb of Catherine Eddows was with child. A garden of fertility she was, the seed of fetus growing inside her. Therefore when I removed Catherine’s uterus, it was symbolic of life, although she herself had ceased to breathe. I had elevated her femininity to the highest pinnacle.
The fetus? Yes, yes, the fetus died. Of course the fetus died! What else suppose you? It was a mere casualty of my artwork.
Now consider my last model. What’s that you say? My last victim? You may call her a ‘victim’ if you like, but I shall call her a model.
Mary Kelly knew exactly what she was doing. Of course she did. The woman drew deliberate attention to herself by singing out her bedroom window. She was the nightingale of Whitechapel. She may as well have cried out, “Notice me! Take heed of me, you inane and senseless world! For I am Mary Kelly, a force to be reckoned with!”
And so. It was when I saw lovely Mary approaching down the alleyway I stopped her. She inquired if I was in need of company for the evening. A woman such as Mary, who made her living by the animal desire of men, knew full well that each of us was in need of ‘company’. This was the coy, infuriating act they all played!
Mary told me her price was sixpence. That sixpence, I would of course never pay. Yet I would reward her famously.
She brought me to her room in Miller’s Court. It took little time, for once I had envisioned my masterpiece, I began quickly. Mary removed her skirt and bodice. Both were lice infested. It was a liberation for her to be free of them. It was my intention that every woman leave this earth as she came into it; birth naked.
Mary gave me a glance, displayed her privates as she no doubt expected me to partake of her favors. I told her I had no such interest. With that I removed my dagger from its scabbard.
The look on her face was one of pure beauty, a mixture of astonishment and fear. I pulled her close and felt her heart race. “Mary Kelly,” I said. “Your singing will get you nowhere and neither will your peddling of flesh. But I! I will now preserve you for posterity and all shall know the name of Mary Kelly forever more!”
She let out a scream, a stifled cry of ‘murder’, as women are wont to do. In the squalor of Whitechapel few take notice, for murder is a common occurrence. This was to my advantage.
I pushed her to the table and pressed my knife to her throat. I thrust it through her neck, down her spine. Mary was like a fine capon being carved up for Christmas dinner. The blood poured like a crimson ocean. Finally her heart stopped. This was always my cue to leave.
I cleaned my dagger on her lice infested skirt and returned it to my pocket. I grabbed my cape, placed my top hat upon my head and exited the hovel.
Mary Kelly: The Ripper? Oh yes, old Jack. Sit yourself down and have a cup of steaming tea, for I’ve much to share about my dealings with Jack.
He thought himself quite smart. No one’s fool. Consider the ridiculous letters he wrote to Scotland Yard. Little did he know. I was savvy to his foul acts, what he had done to my friend Annie and the rest. The man was dreadful, worse than a penny dreadful. I swore revenge before I even met him.
As for me, suffice it to say I needed sixpence for my rent. I bid you judge me not. Some lived nine to a room, slop pails in the street, ragged children eating eels wrapped in newspaper. Were conditions not of filth and poverty I’d never have engaged that rutting sod. Besides, I was no lamb in the woods. I knew exactly what I’d gotten myself into. Each time was a risk but what else, besides thieving, would put coin in my coffer and bread on my table?
And so I took Jack to my hovel at Miller’s Court. Though I’d undone my tatter of a skirt and displayed my bare cunny straight at him, he said he’d have none. Oh, I knew it then. He was no normal sort of man. Yet I’d had his type before, they that requested only conversation. Harmless, the vast majority. But not this one. Not old Jack. It was in his eyes. Something diabolical, something sinister. In that minute I told myself “Take hold of yourself, Mary Kelly lest you be done for.”
I tried to fight him off but he pulled his dagger, gouging me in the throat. A wound such as this is not so painful as one may imagine. Fear ate away at my wounds and soon my skin, and all inside me went numb. Then all I knew was the weak beating of my heart, fading, fading till I thought there’d be nothing left.
But not so! I am a fighter.
A ghost, sooner or later is destined to leave its flesh body. I’d not given this any thought up till that moment. I’d been too busy trying to forge a decent living for myself, although my living was never decent. However, in that moment, when breath left my body, I took on the being of something else entirely. Something powerful and strong.
I thought of Mister Scrooge’s ghosts. If I’d had my choice I’d be Christmas future, he that stood like a tall black specter, bony hand pointing fingers to a grave. I’d scare the daylights out of Jack, had he any daylight to him. As it happened I nearly got my wish.
Somehow, removed from my flesh body I rose. Old Jack had donned his top hat by then and escaped out to the street. I slithered after him, my vapor passing through walls.
I was angry, carrying the wrath of the four others who had died before me. My unbridled temper would see justice! “You Ripper,” I shouted. “You’ll pay for all this slicing and dicing and mutilating of our wares! You are no man! You are no artist either. You are but a cruel miscreant and I shall have my revenge upon you!”
Though I knew not how my spirit looked, I must have been terribly frightening, for even the great Ripper cowered at my words.
I chased him. My arms were long shadows that brought gusts of wind, my voice a huge echo that rung inside his ears. I’d have driven him to madness had he not already been so.
I followed him through the blackened streets, his feet clopping like horse hooves on the cobblestone. I pursued him all the way to the river.
There he stood on the bridge, teetering back as my ghostly presence pressed against him. He pulled his knife and attacked me but it was akin to slicing air. He bellowed a scream but none heard, or if they did they were wise enough to ignore it. I laughed a diabolical laugh as he trembled in terror beneath me. “Not so clever now are you, Ripping Jack?” I hissed
With the force of a hurricane my ghostly arms pushed. He tumbled off the bridge to the icy water below. I watched as his legs flailed, his top hat floating down the Thames. I then flew, hovering above him as his body, still breathing, drifted to an estuary . The tide then carried him off to sea.
There he bobbed like a cork in the waves till a swarm of blood thirsty sharks swam in, fins racing. The big fishes closed in and with blade like teeth ripped Jack the Ripper to pieces. Yet he remained conscious and alive through it all, just as Annie was conscious when he disemboweled her. Just as Catherine was conscious when he cut out her uterus.
Some of his bits were swallowed like Jonah in the whale’s belly. Some scattered and ran like water colors, bleeding through the ocean.
The sharks, I am told, fancy themselves to be great artists.
To say the King fancied me is an understatement. To say he loved or adored me is misleading as well. In truth, King Henry the Eighth was obsessed with me. Obsessed in a way most would consider quite unnatural. This of course was no fault of his own. He was but human. Yet his obsession would lead to the transformation of an entire empire.
It is true I was beheaded. But my kind never dies. We dwell in the weft and weave of all we once were. I am in the creaks of staircases, the plaster of palace walls, the jewels of the crown. My tale, albeit tragic, is one of pride and power.
My influence remains, even to this day. But I will start at the beginning.
Everything about King Henry was exciting. He was a man of risk and bold adventure. His palace was magnificent; floors of dark oak, velvet draperies and crystal chandeliers. He wore robes of sable, chains of gold, ruby rings. I was no stranger to luxury, having lived a good deal of my life in the French court where I served as a handmaiden to the Queen Mary and Princess Claude. When I came to Henry’s palace I determined I’d have the finery of a queen, for nothing else would do.
In my French education I had learned courtly ways, the manners and expectations of the high born. I knew, only too well, the fate of girls who gave favors to a king. Once bedded, never wedded. I liked to say that as a joke though it was not really funny. Such had been the fate of my sister Mary, a concubine, once mistress to the King, but later tossed aside with a bastard in her womb. Mary Boleyn is remembered as nothing more than a whore. I vowed such would never happen to me!
And so it was, when King Henry took a liking to me, I determined I would have no intimacy with him until he’d wed me in a proper church. In his lust Henry pursued me and I teased him. Oh how I teased him! For I knew the truth; a woman’s tease is the most powerful thing in all of this world.
One small problem was, of course, that Henry was already married. His first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, refused to grant him a divorce. Indeed, the Pope himself refused to grant Henry a divorce! And so Henry, after much distress and mounting desire for me, decided to finally break from the Church of Rome.
“Damn the Pope, damn them all,” he declared. “I will have you, Anne Boleyn! I will have you, even if I must create my own church in order to do so!”
And that was exactly what Henry did; he created his own religion, declared himself divorced from Catherine and became the sole ruler of both church and state. All this was, of course, the result of my masterful seduction.
We were wed far away from the palace at the white cliffs of Dover. After that, and only after that, did I agree to share Henry’s bed. It was then also that he noticed my sixth finger, the tiny web of flesh that grew from my hand.
I was an expert at hiding it, wearing long sleeves that slipped far past my wrists. It was an unsightly thing but it was my branding. It spoke of my true identity. Times being what they were, executions rampant, we witches lived in the shadows.
King Henry, however, was infatuated and made no matter of my finger. To him it was a mere peculiarity, a fetish. He invented ways to incorporate it in our sex play and I daresay it pleased him immensely.
Soon, much to Henry’s delight, I fell pregnant.
More than anything in the world, Henry wanted a son. A legitimate male child could be the only proper heir to the throne of England. So said the law. In his hope and anxiety Henry convinced himself that our child was a boy. And so, when my daughter, the red haired Elizabeth arrived in this world, wailing with a voice as big as the sea, Henry was mortified.
“The next child shall be male,” he said crisply. This even before he first held Elizabeth in his arms.
The next child. Ha! Little did my husband know, there would be no next child! I’d make sure of it. What followed were a series of miscarriages and stillbirths. With each one Henry despised me more.
A son. Oh, I could very well have given Henry a son! It took no more than a poultice of rooster’s blood placed under a man’s pillow for seven nights in a row. (After which he must be fed snake meat, precisely seven hours before the act of intercourse. Any proper witch knew this!) It was a simple spell. My own mother had used it to conceive my brother George. It worked without fail.
Why did I not use it, you ask? Why not indeed? I had the future of England in my very hands! But you see, that was precisely my reason; the future of England.
Three years passed and I bore no more children. It was then that Henry decided he’d need a new wife. He set his sights upon the Lady Jane Seymour. She was a mousy little thing, hardly a comparison to the likes of me. But my fate was already cast and I knew Jane would be Henry’s next wife.
There were many in the palace who turned against me. Many who spread lies and rumors. By then all knew of my sixth finger. They accused me of witchcraft, saying I had charmed the King into our very marriage.
It was true, of course, that I was a witch. That much I could not help, being born into the line of Howard on my mother’s side. Every female of the Howard line inherited some measure of the witch blood. I had been graced with plenty. My daughter Elizabeth had even more! For this reason I knew she must be queen. She would command the winds and the seas. With her psychic powers and gift of sight she would become the best spy in all the world. Elizabeth would use her power for goodness and treachery alike, for all is fair in love and war.
Once I had birthed Elizabeth nothing else mattered. In fact, I would have been quite content to age gracefully, take my place as consort, outlive my husband and watch my daughter rule gallantly.
But no. Henry would not have it.
He needed a reason to execute me and having nothing better to accuse me of, he chose adultery. For my part, I had always been faithful. And yet, Mark Smeaton, my court musician was accused of bedding me. This was quite outrageous! Master Smeaton was a lover of men, he cared only for men, that was plain as the day is long. He had not an inkling of interest in my flesh nor that of any woman. Despite this he was my good friend, keen to serenade me, frequently relaying the gossip of the palace. Such brought his downfall.
Another accused was my brother George. My own brother! Although I had lived at French court and I will admit to many peculiar tastes in the bed chamber — incest was certainly not among them! George was horrified.
Under the King’s law Mark and George were tortured, and torture back then was quite gruesome. The rack, thumbscrews, the iron maiden and strappado. The twisting and popping of fingers, pricking of blades, arms dislodged from sockets. Stretching of flesh till torsos were disfigured beyond recognition. Blood poured and wails of pain resounded until finally Mark and George confessed to vile acts they had never committed.
And me? My fate was to be the executioner’s block.
My husband, in his grudging mercy, had been kind enough to bring a skilled executioner from France; one so swift with a sword that my head would be gone before I realized he had sliced me. My death, however, would not be a true death. I knew this and made a joke of it till the very end.
Years later, when my daughter Elizabeth finally took her rightful place on the throne, she employed a magi by the name of Master John Dee.
This was much to my delight, for Master Dee, being skilled in all manner of conjuring and summoning, was one of the rare beings who could contact my spirit and allow my return to the earthly plane. And so it was I reunited with my Elizabeth! I appeared to her in the flesh, for the crossing of dimensions is quite easy if one has a proper conjurer. (The afterlife is not so very different from this life as humans know it; although it is a good deal easier and far more fun. )
Elizabeth had also employed a privy council, a collection of old gentleman, gray haired and sensible. From these she ostensibly took direction. Yet it was I who truly advised her.
It was I who told Elizabeth never to marry. A husband, I cautioned, would take all her power. And most likely her head as well! (You see I am quite the jester. Perhaps I missed my calling in life.) But in seriousness, Elizabeth would have no man to command her! And if any questioned this decision, she would merely claim she was ‘wed to England’. That silenced their criticisms.
It was I who advised Elizabeth on war and peace, economics and all matters of state. My daughter served a reign of over forty five years. During that time she brought England to glory, winning wars, sustaining a solvent treasury and establishing the strongest navy in all the world.
My only regret was that Elizabeth had birthed no legitimate heir. There had been babies born to her, oh yes! Boys and girls alike, delivered in secret, hidden by midwives. My daughter was a woman of passion. No virgin she, despite what historians claim. The Howard line was kept alive by Elizabeth! But upon her death the crown had no recognized successor. Elizabeth’s council decided upon James of Scotland. For my part I had no say in it.
Alas, James was a poor ruler, no friend of the people, certainly no diplomat. To make matters worse, James had put more witches to death than any other monarch in the history of Great Britain!
His line obviously could not be permitted to last! And so it was I cast a spell, and James’ sons were usurped from the throne. England was thrown into civil war. All this could have easily been avoided if only they had left a witch in charge! Foolish men.
Yet our power would be restored.
In the twentieth century, another great female would come to power. This woman would be descended through the line of Howard. (Leave the blood work and DNA to a genealogist. It is complicated! Suffice it to say, this is true and none should challenge me on this fact! )
This new queen would also serve a term of over forty five years. By the end of her reign England would once again be restored to peace and prosperity.
This new monarch would be called Elizabeth.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Obsessed
At the height of my fame I was known as the master of macabre, Poe the poet. But you, gentle reader may call me Edgar. It is with much displeasure I look upon your current world. The nightmares you now face are far more devastating than any I have poured from my pen. In hopes of diverting your attention I will tell you a bit about my own life.
Yes, in my day we had atrocities as well. Disease and tuberculosis. The enslavement of human beings for profit, great plantations built upon sweat of those who never saw a farthing for their labor. As for myself, I was orphaned at a young age, separated from my siblings and raised by a man called Allan. He hated me.
First, I will speak of the raven for I hear he is still an obsession of many. It was my wife, my sweet Virginia, who inspired that poem. “Edgar,” she told me, “choose a bird! One of dark and eerie countenance. Only such will move the minds of your readers, for they long to be frightened out of their wits!”
She then giggled her girlish laugh and I knew she was right. The poem I created sold by the hundreds, enabling me to begin my travels on what you in your modern world would call a ‘book tour’.
Virginia was my muse, my inspiration. She spoke of dark things; human beings buried alive, black cats and black death, the stench of coffins and great stone mansions that crumbled in the quaking earth. Many a night she would entertain me with her wild imaginings, all of which found a true place when I put pen to paper. Yet her dark fantasies worried me. Her behavior was peculiar, not like that of most women. Often in the night I found her perched on the balcony as if she meant to take flight.
Oh, she was a nubile creature! Our marriage was quite unconventional. When I wedded her she was but thirteen years old, a budding beauty, hair of silk and skin of peach. And I, in my lustful maturity (for I was then twenty seven) could not resist her coquettish charms.
What’s that you say? Pedophilia? The word was not in my vocabulary! Before you jump to any vile conclusions be assured; my love for Virginia was pure. She was family, my first cousin. We shared the very same blood! As such, I think I saw in her a bit of myself — my own reflection. I could not resist the charm of her lovemaking, the exquisite pinnacles we achieved, for who does not secretly desire carnal knowledge of one’s own self?
What’s that you say? Incest? Risk of birth defects? We knew nothing of your modern genetics! Even if we had, I certainly would not have stopped the union, for I adored Virginia with a passion that was sublime, a passion very few humans will achieve. Alas, she was to bear no children, a thing I have always regretted.
My true nightmare began when Virginia took ill with tuberculosis. In the stifled, slow moving days and the gloomy nights I watched as her body atrophied. She became a walking cadaver, a blood spewing entity, standing in the path of the reaper, doomed for the bed of death.
When Virginia passed from this world I was devastated. In my loneliness I even tried to replace her. I courted several ladies. I had affairs with the beautiful Nan Richmond and the illustrious Sarah Whitman. I even called upon the widow Elmira Shelton who had once been my fiance (before I met Virginia.) Yet my efforts were for naught. None could rival my true love. Though she was gone I still burned with passion for her.
I then traveled to Baltimore, on a speaking tour. It was there that the spirit of Virginia began to haunt me relentlessly. She came to me in dreams, visions and visitations. She was pale as chalk, thin as bone, with red stains of tainted blood still trickling from her lips. Yet to me she was lovely.
These visions lasted four nights and it became clear to me; if I wished to reunite with Virginia I must pass through the dark realm myself. I must enter the red masque, step beyond the veil and know the silencing of my own telltale heart.
And so it was outside a public house, on the streets of Baltimore that I drew my last breath.
The night was wet and blustery, chill of the early October winds setting in. I had been drawn from my chamber, beckoned by a bird. Yes, a raven. Of courses a raven! What else? I stood on the pavement in bare feet and a nightshirt. I was then encompassed in what I can only describe as a thick fog, soft to the touch of my skin, rich, relaxing and delicious. In that fog I could feel Virginia’s presence. Finally I saw her, nubile and fresh as she was on our wedding day. In that moment I was no longer tied to this earth. I joined Virginia in that place of enthralling darkness, to return nevermore.
Try as they might, doctors could report no discernible cause for my death.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Nightmare