dante wilde

Come inside and wander around, let yourself get lost for a while. After all, the only important thing in life is pleasure

Death Of Love

“I can’t do this all alone.”

“You don’t have to.” 

“I do.” 

“No, you don’t have to do this alone. I’m here for you, always.” 

“But what if you’re not?” 

“But I am. I’m here right now, and I promise not to leave you.” 

He lay on the floor of the empty room and he held the letter to his chest. It had been four years since they’d seen each other, two since they’d fallen out of contact. But he was going to find her. He would take the train and walk the city until he found her. The address on the top of the letter was number 22a. He sat up, aside from his blankets, easel and paints and a couple of books, the room was empty. It was a small room in a large house with a shared bathroom, that he resented. He’d been living there two years now, he’d even written to her to tell her, but had heard nothing in return. Every week for 5 months he wrote to her and every week for five months she didn’t reply. At the start of the sixth month he gave up posting the letters but continued to write them. Everyday, even now, he checked the mailbox habitually. He opened the door to his bedroom and stepped onto the landing. He’d been given the second floor room, smallest and cheapest, it wasn’t much  bigger than a closet, but it was a roof over his head. “A stepping stone.” His grandfather had said.  

Outside the sun had barely broken through the clouds and the sky was still red. It looked like a painting, one of his. One of the paintings he’d painted for her. He was an hour early for the postman and no night mail had come, at least not for him. He walked out into the cold and turned down the street. He walked this path most days. If he was fast enough he would come up on the postman and watch as he placed letters into the box. That was the cruelty of living with other people, there was always mail, but it often wasn’t for him. When it was it was usually from his father, the well intentioned man who always offered charity to his disenfranchised son. He stopped for a coffee and as he waited, people began to sprinkle onto the streets without paying notice to one another. 

“How much happier we’d all be if we only said hello.” 

He took his cup of coffee and as he paid the man a rather ordinary woman in a black coat stepped up beside him. She smiled briefly and he turned away from her and continued to walk in the same direction he’d been going. It was brighter now, the sun seemed to have come out as cherry blossoms blossom and light the air with a delicate pink. It was another twenty minutes of walking in the cold before he came back to his street. By this time, the coffee had been drunk and his hands were cold again. 

“I will leave today, 22a, I will leave today, no matter what’s in the mailbox.”

The postman stepped onto the street as he came to his mailbox. He paused. Each day for two years he’d checked the mail. He’d grown comfortable in his routine. He was used to it and that in itself was a comfort. For a few seconds he wished there would be nothing in the box, wished that she would stay out of his life, stay gone, and leave him with his undisturbed memories. He opened the letter box and flipped through the letters. He was half way before he stopped, the return address was 22a and on the front, her handwriting, had written “Pup” the nickname she’d given him when they were only children. 

His heart stopped. He fumbled for the back of the envelope. His numb fingers were clumsy on the paper. He walked toward the front door. The other letters fell from his grasp as he crossed the threshold and made his way to his closet. The rip of the paper tore the silence and the envelope fell to the floor. 

“Dear Pup, 

It’s been so long. I hope you’re still at this address. I got your letter, I guess that’s obvious, I’m reading it again now. Why did you stop writing? I miss your letters terribly. You just disappeared after telling me your address. I thought you’d maybe found yourself a girl and she was taking care of you. I hope you have and she is, you did always need looking after. We made a mistake, moving away from each other. You were a fool and I was even more foolish. We could have made a life for ourselves, here, there, it doesn’t matter, not anymore. We have to live with our choices and they could be the hardest things we ever have to live with. 

Pup, there’s something I have to tell you. It’s something I should have told you a long time ago, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to write that letter and I know how you love letters. I wanted to call you Pup, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t find the words. So I wrote. I wrote dozens of letters and I didn’t send a single one. They’re all here with me now. 

I’m dying, Pup. If you’re reading this then I’ve already gone to join my parents. Having this letter sent was my last act of will. You were my last thought. You were the only person I ever wanted and I let you slip away and now I’m gone. 

You see, of all the letters I didn’t send, this is one that I wish I’d sent the most. The one telling you that I never stopped loving you. I didn’t realise that two years had gone by so fast. With my treatments it seems that less time has past than actually has, you lose track when you’re sick. Time seems to change, you lie in bed and you wait, and you get sick and you get a little bit better. Unless you can hear people, unless you can see or touch them, they disappear. I’ve written to a lot of people and there were a lot of people I forgot. But they didn’t get their letters. They’re here, in a drawer, and I’m sure they’ll find them when they need to. 

It’s time for me to go, the doctors are coming. It’s all in vain but you can’t help but appreciate the effort. 

I love you Pup and I never should have let you go. 

With all my heart, 

Myra.” 

He sat. He wiped the tears from his eyes. He breathed, hard, short, laboured breaths. She was gone. He stood up and packed his bags, there was no longer anything here for him, not in this city. He glared at the easel, behind hit were canvases, heavily painted, colourful, moody, dark, they’d been reflections of years without Myra. They were his best work, she’d encouraged him since they were young and now she would never see what he could do. Few of his works had been commissioned, he made enough to get by but not much more. 

It was raining. He couldn’t feel it on his skin. He didn’t hear it as it hit the ground. One foot in front of the other he walked away from everything he’d built towards the life he’d agreed to leave to behind. His clothes were soaked through and his fingers were numb when he reached the train station.  He fumbled for his wallet, dropped his bag and after he got his ticket, the wetness of his skin dampened the paper almost immediately. The train station was a foreign place, a gate way between the worlds of peoples’ lives. It was a gateway he would now pass through many times without Myra and today was the first. Train stations were her favourite places; from the under ground worms that slithered through the environment to the small platforms with wooden bench seats and small canopies above them. 

The train was full. They pushed in between gaps and they refused to wait for arrivals to alight before boarding. The young man was forced between two men with umbrellas. Their breath seemed to sweat in the air as they waited for the train to depart. As much as possible they kept away from the saturated, unshaven cheeks of the causally dressed man in front of them. He didn’t seem to notice them. His stared into the distance. Or perhaps they didn’t, perhaps that was an  illusion and he was so deep in thought his eyes didn’t see. They fell on a space without acknowledging it.  Beneath him the train jolted into life and lurched away from the platform. The well trained suits and regular passengers held fast. He fell forward into the man before him and was briskly elbowed back into place. 

He didn’t seem to notice. 

He didn’t seem to care. 

His face was reflected in the window, his hair was mattered to his forehead. One hand held onto his bag and the other onto the overhead railing. His head leant clumsily out from his body.  It was several stops before he was pushed back into reality by a shoulder of the man behind him. Without conscious thought he alighted and watched as the train pulled away destined for the distance. 

This was Myra’s stop. 

A small station that consisted of a platform divided into halves. One followed the train he’d just abandoned and the other followed the past. The man that pushed past him sat on the bench seat and read a magazine. He was waiting. Whatever he was waiting for was going to arrive. The man didn’t look up from his magazine. If he noticed his eyes on him but he didn’t care. The man with the magazine turned the page. It was a magazine for teenage girls. Daughter? Lover? He didn’t care. He turned away from the man with the magazine knowing that his wait would end. But his wait for Myra would be one that never ended. 

It was midmorning by the time he stepped down from the platform and the rain had stopped and the chill from his clothes pricked his skin. He felt it this time, a definite coldness, a sadness. Myra’s house was a short walk from the platform. She could feel the trains pass by as she lay in bed. Much to the displeasure of her boyfriend. Who she started seeing not long before the letters stopped. He’d always hated Myra’s boyfriend. He was exactly that, a boy and yet, he claimed as children do that he loved with his whole heart. He rummaged around in his pocket for a cigarette, he’d always, always told Myra how revolting they were. The stench, the taste. “I’m glad I’m not kissing you!” he’d quip, while his heavy heart ached a little harder. There were no cigarettes. 

On the road he stopped. It had been months since he’d walked these streets and it had been years more since he’d walked them with her. He’ll never love  her like I do, he doesn’t have the heart. He doesn’t know love.” The words he’d written in his journal found their way to the tips of his tongue. The boyfriend, whatshisname?, had never been more than a play thing and he was only supposed to keep her occupied. But play she did, and he knew, deep his heart and throughout his being that there were actions better not thought of but that crawled into his mind in the hours she slept and the months after she’d stopped writing. He crossed toward Myra’s street. He didn’t watch the buildings or the people as he walked through the streets. His mind was on her, as it always was, but it was on jealousy and it was on anger. 

Her front door, foreign as it was, seemed somehow familiar. It was, after all, hers. He placed his hand on the doorknob and turned it.

“My door is always open to you.” 

She used to say.

He’d never, after all this time, taken her up on that. 

He’d only smiled and said “okay.” 

The simple sentence “I love you.” Would have fit just as well as “okay.” Myra lived on her own, or at least she had done in the letters before today’s. Her shoes were by the door and he took his off beside them. Inside was small, it was neat, tidy, unlike her. There were floors that had been well travelled in this house. Family, doctors, friends, he wondered if he had come to see her. He shook the thought from his body and followed the stairs upwards. 

“Myra” 

He wanted to call out, 

“I’ve come. Myra, are you here?” 

The words were on his lips and in his breath, but they always caught. He opened the door to the only room at the top of the stairs. He’d never been into her bedroom before, not before they’d moved apart. She’d always come to his house. His old bed was laced with their scent. Her parents hated him.  He closed the door to the bedroom. There was a single bed against the wall, a large window at the back of the room with a thick black curtain drawn across it. Her dressing table was a mess of make up, a box of tissues, hair products and several small gift boxes. Beside it her small bookshelf held the books he’d given her. They still looked new, their beautiful spines not cracked and pages still perfect. He smiled, she was just like him. He took one from the shelf and opened the cover. He’d written on the inside covers of all the books he’d given her, she had always loved his handwriting, he considerate it bastardised script, but she had adored every movement of the pen. He didn’t read the verse he’d written. He placed the book back onto the shelf and sat down on her bed. 

On the other side of the bedroom door the house was perfect. It had been tidied, groomed, looked after. It had, no doubt, held the mourners after the service. Her bedroom was exactly the way she’d left it. It smelt of her, the type of smell you catch on strangers, for only an instant, before it takes you back to a moment, and the moment vanishes. Her sheets we cold. 

“Myra?” 

He looked into the mirror on top of the dresser. He could see her standing there. Her foundation spread evenly across her face to conceal the freckles he’d always adored. He began to cry. He would never see her again, would never touch her skin or hear her voice. It was already fading in his mind. He remembered a few things. He remembered the words, but nothing else. Not the tone, not the pitch, not the sound of her smile. Nothing else. His tears dripped from his chin. 

“Pup, you promised.” 

He made his way into the kitchen and searched through the cupboards. Nothing. She wasn’t a big drinker. Upstairs he opened the bathroom cabinet. There were bottles, pill bottles, by weight they felt half full. 

“Drowning in optimism” he thought. 

He turned them over in his hands. She didn’t live alone. She’d lived with him. Lived with him while he’d tried to make something of himself. Tried to build a life for them and he’d slipped in behind his back and she had slipped away from him. And where was he? He was nowhere. He was a man in a closet, with an easel and some paint. He was a man with nothing but dreams. He could see now why the letters had stopped. He took several of the bottles from the cabinet and walked back Myra’s bedroom. 

He tipped four of them into his hand and stopped. 

“You promised Pup, nothing to deal with pain, remember?” 

He closed his fist around the pills and stared at the bottle. 

She was dead. 

Dead.

And all that was left was her boyfriend’s pills.

There was a pain in his heart, it wasn’t the deep ache that he’d become used to over the months. It was another pain. One he couldn’t place, but it was a pain he knew he would become familiar with. He would never have known that the bitch’s boyfriend would be the one to bring them closer together. 

He opened his fist. He tipped more the bottle into the palm of his hand and he swallowed them. He swallowed them. The bottle fell to the floor and he took up another. He tipped the contents into his palm and then he swallowed them. He swallowed them all, her boyfriends pain pills, the pills that had nourished the intimacy of their relationship. 

He lay down on her bed and he closed his eyes. He always closed his eyes when he thought of her, always. It brought her closer to him and when he could see her, it didn’t matter that he no longer knew the sound of her voice. She was there, as though she were a part of him, and he fell into thought. He didn’t feel the pills creep up on him and he no longer felt sadness. He felt hope and he felt love, because he knew he would be with her soon, he would be closer to her. He could feel her already, the warmth of his body in her heart. 

Today had been years in the making. They were meant to be together and they’d promised each other they would be together, that they would follow each other into the darkness. It was a darkness that he’d never been scared of, as long as he knew she was there, waiting for him, he wasn’t scared of anything. She encouraged him to leave, he knew that when he came back, she would be there, waiting for him.

 He would always have her to return to. He’d come here, searching for her, hoping she would wait as she’d promised. But she hadn’t, she couldn’t. The letter had changed everything. He took it from his pocket and he placed it on his chest. Someone, someone would find him and they would know that he had gone to her, gone to be with her. Because love, it doesn’t expire, it grows and it changes and in this life and in the next, it exists within our souls and that’s what they’d have, they would have their love and they would have their souls. 

 

He drew a deep breath and with it he let himself go. 

 

 

All Women Can Dance – the first four chapters

This this first 12,000 words, about four chapters, of my novel All Women Can Dance (which isn’t finished). I encourage you, please, to leave any feedback (any feedback at all) and especially if you give up on it, the point at which you gave up. You can email Dwildepublishing@gmail.com or the comment section is open. Much love, Dantè. 

 Balfour Worsham lurked at the top end of Buck’s Row. It was quiet, the air was still, and the street lamps sputtered and cast shadows up the walls. He walked slowly, calmly, down the Row. In his right hand he carried a case. With his left, he checked his watch. The skirts of his coat brushed against his calves. He smiled at the women as they sauntered past him, naming their price, fingering the shoulders of his coat, giggling, tittering as only women can do. His steps were measured, equal length, he maintained his speed.

Toward the back end of the row, away from where the ladies of the night had come, stood a woman. She clutched an envelope. It was pale in the light. She was nervous, he could tell, she wrung her hands and shifted her weight. Balfour stopped. He watched her for a few seconds. It was a safe distance.

 She wasn’t here for work.

Intrigued he stepped forward. She was here for something else, a man, perhaps. It hardly mattered, she had taken his fancy and she would be his. He stepped forward. His footsteps filled the Row. The woman glanced at him then looked away.

 “Be calm my dear. There’s nothing to fear.”

 He flicked the latch on his case and it opened a fraction in his hand.

 With his left hand he reached across to the right side of his body and unbuckled a sheath. He stopped. She couldn’t have been more than an arm’s length away. Neither spoke. She stepped back.

 “Ah ah ah.”

 In one swift movement he’d taken his hat from his head and held it between his fore finger and thumb. The woman stared at him, her pupils dilated, her fingers creased the paper. Horse hooves clopped at the end of the Row. The horse reared gently. An old gloved hand parted two red curtains. A dark skinned driver prayed and turned away. Through the curtains two eyes watched as the case hit the ground. A moment later the woman’s body fell into Balfour’s arms.

 The corpse was shrouded by his coat.

He opened his briefcase and drew from it a steel probe, six inches in length and point five inches in diameter. He held the woman’s heart in his hand, it danced a final beat and he slid the probe down one side of the aorta. With a gloved finger he stretched the organ’s opening. Satisfied with his examination he removed the probe and cut a small pocket into the heart. For a few moments he held it up to a street lamp.

“Useless.”

 He cast it for the wild dogs.

  Balfour wiped his tools and lay them meticulously in their places inside his case, then made his way out of the row into the looming dawn.

The slow clops of horse hooves followed him up the Row. Wooden carriage wheels on the cobble stone filled the immediate area. The carriage came to a stop beside the body and the old man grimaced at the disemboweled remains. His driver climbed down from his perch and said a silent prayer for the woman. Her face was vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place her outside of the sea of  souls. The dark skinned driver doused the body in pitch and set her alight. After a moment he climbed back onto his perch and drove the carriage away.

 It was the beginning of autumn.

 Balfour slid the heavy iron key into the lock and the door groaned as it opened. A candle burned on the table, beside it lay a pile of letters. He took up the pile and his eyes passed over the ones addressed to Balfour Worsham, photographer. They came to rest on a small white envelope with,

‘Mister Balfour Worsham.’

Inscribed in well versed hand.

 He read the letter aloud,

 “Dear Mister Worsham,

I am writing to confirm that the funeral for Mrs Worsham will take place on the thirteenth of September, as we’ve discussed.

She will be laid to rest by reverend Joseph Queen at St Mary Whitechapel, at the eastern end of Whitechapel High Street.

 Yours,

William Edwardson.”

 Two more days.

Balfour thought solemnly.

He dropped the letter onto the pile and began to pace. It had been four weeks since his mother had died and the autopsy result had only come through a few days ago.

 It was his brother that had killed her.

The menace.

The ungrateful.

 The murderer.

Balfour saw it in his eyes. They’d burned, even when they were children. It wasn’t enough that he almost took their mother’s life at his own birth, born horrible, born, as Balfour once heard his father spit.

“An atheist! A child no God could love.

 “He plagued her with illness, the flu, smallpox, he attempted to give her cholera!”

Venomous rage coursed through Balfour’s veins and he screamed into the darkness of his mother’s house.

  The autopsy had reported ‘acute indigestion’ but Balfour was utterly convinced his brother had murdered her. He snatched up the candle, collected his coat and knife, and headed up the grand staircase to the study.

 His study was the only room he’d altered since he’d lived in the house. It was adorned with his own furniture; a large arm chair with velvet cushions and an oak frame, the writing desk he’d inherited from his father, a small table, and the bare essentials for his photography. His suit case was the largest of his carry items and had taken nearly the entirety of the empty seat in the hackney cab.

 Balfour sat in the arm chair and opened his silver cigarette case. The scent of the tobacco seduced him and he hungrily stuffed his pipe before lighting it and inhaling the smoke lustfully. He dropped the case on the table and allowed himself to slip in and out of thoughtlessness before the last of the smoke trickled out from between his lips and he slept.

  The day had well begun when Balfour started and leapt from his chair. He dripped with sweat and his breathing was laboured. He’d been torn back from a nightmare into the familiar surroundings that themselves seemed horrific. A recurring terror where his brother’s throat was in his hands but somehow slipped away.

His body was electric. In the dream he would feel the warm flesh and the frightened pulse. The short breaths becoming silence. Balfour opened his notebook and from its pages he took the documents from the doctors and coroner. Sixty-two years had been reduced to two documents. He scanned over the words he’d underlined.

‘The deceased, Mrs H. Worsham, sixty two years of age was a resident at 29 Hanbury Street. She had lived in this house for the past forty years with her Husband of fifty years, the late Mr D. Worsham, and their two sons Balfour and Charles… Her health was known to have been well…She did not suffer from any dis-ease of the mind or body… Her family were happy…She was loved by all and had no enemies… Mrs Worsham was found to be deceased on the third day of September…The cause of the death has been discovered as acute indigestion.’

Balfour clutched the page and paced. He’d shortened the page long report down to only a paragraph and no matter how he looked at it, it only seemed to dodge his question.

 “How did she die, what kind of a thing causes acute indigestion?”

He exclaimed and glared at the contradiction.   

 “She couldn’t be healthy then suddenly die.”

Balfour dropped the documents onto the table and turned his attention to the well thumbed pages of Human Anatomy and Cause Of Death. The books were his own creation, loosely bound manuscripts that consisted of essays and pages he’d liberated from medical journals. They  were his only source of knowledge, and even then, they were subject to his speculation and assumption.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “Master, your breakfast.” 

Followed a curt knock.

“Leave it at the door.”

The manservant placed the tray on the floor and Balfour waited until his footsteps had faded on the stairs. He opened the study door a fraction and peered into the shadows, the servant was gone.  Balfour drew the tray into the room, shut the door, then sat to tea, potato cakes, fried bread and beans.

Over breakfast he studied acute indigestion. He wrote margin notes and cross referenced the two books where gaps appeared. He drained his tea and poured himself another, then placed the autopsy report above the two books, pushed the tray aside and stared thoughtfully into the pages.

 Without breaking his gaze Balfour took up his pen and circled a paragraph dealing with the symptoms of acute indigestion on the pages of Cause Of Death. He turned to Human Anatomy and circled the anatomy of the heart, then drew a connecting line between the circles, and from these he drew a diagonal line onto the autopsy report. He then took his pen and underlined the words he did not understand and noted them in the margin.

 He took his notebook and a small piece of paper spattered with blood from the far shelf and scribbled down what he’d determined the most likely causes of death. Balfour unfolded the blood spattered paper and transcribed the notes he’d taken on last night’s victim.

– Heart size; appears to be that of the average female for this age (approximately 24).

– Health; The body of the female appears healthy (must watch for deception) if heart is not healthy – quite useless.

– Heart cavities: When compared to notes, cavities too small, in side of heart blackened, muscle also appears torn.

 It was near midday when Balfour returned to the sitting room. The manservant had left the day’s mail on the table along with a pot of, now cold, black tea. He was the only servant who hadn’t left after Balfour’s mother’s death, and he had a strange fondness for his master. Balfour too was fond of him, and never more so than now.

 The letters sat beside the day’s list of arrangements, he opened them and an air of boredom washed over him. The pile consisted of answerless and seemingly obligatory condolences from people he’d never met. And increasing requests for photographic works, mostly portraits.

 Nevertheless, Balfour allowed himself to twist in their pity. He would read each one, then return to the first condolences which remained on the table and read them again, as was his habit. He’d memorised the punctuation and could hear the writer’s voice in his head. Somehow, these few letters softened his heart and warmed the bitter cold.

 After a cup of tea he opened the folded paper beside the pot and read the list of appointments. He was to lunch at Lord Allcott’s on Caxton Street, in the West End  at 1 o’clock.  By the time he’d finished the pot, the clock had chimed for the hour of 1. He slipped the list into his pocket called for the manservant to telegram the Lord and warn him of his lateness. All the while Allcott’s voice sounded in the back of his mind.

“A gentleman is never late, that’s the preserve of the Jews and Muslims.”

The wind was unusually cold as Balfour stepped outside in his coat and hat and hailed a cab. It was minutes before he was collected from outside the big house and to increase his already mounting stress of lateness the cab driver himself was rather unpleasant.

 It had been three weeks since he’d visited the Lord, the man whom had been a long time friend of his mother’s.  Allcott was aging and it was only a matter of time before death would hold him. He was was not only a dear friend but also the nearest thing to a father Balfour could remember. He saddened greatly at these thoughts, the precursor of death had become increasingly common and three days before his mother’s funeral, the notion was more than he could bare.

  Outside the cab the city in its banality reflected his deepest moods, the clouds were a heavy grey and the red bricks of houses seemed monochrome in the darkening day. Rain drizzled down as it had done for days and while the cab driver drove, Balfour reflected on his first murder. The thrill of it caused his heart to race. He felt as though he were a butcher that had succumbed to madness. He’d learnt little from the murder and gleefully he knew he was to kill again. This time, however, he would take as long as he needed and know precisely what he was looking for.

 Lord Allcott slipped into his mind. He could murder him and then begin his experiments in the Lord’s home. Immediately he resented himself for such thoughts, how could he murder the beloved Lord whom he’d idolised and who’d helped him to such an extent? He didn’t, however, falter on the importance of the death of at least one other person. He knew he couldn’t enlist the Lord’s help, though this did not persuade him from thoughts of trying.

The cab arrived at Lord Allcott’s and Balfour paid the driver, who disputed the price then spat at his feet.

Perhaps he could be the one.

 Balfour thought to himself as he walked up the steps to the Lord’s front door. He knocked and within moments the servant answered. He had skin of chocolate and intense brown eyes that were utterly transfixing. In the depths of his eyes Balfour saw inquisitiveness, contentment and beauty. He had natural intelligence in its rawest form, uncultivated, yet piercing, his mind a fire that begged to be kindled.

“Master Balfour! It’s a pleasure to see you, please let me take your coat and I will show you to my master.”

“Thank you, Egan.”

Balfour responded then removed his hat and coat and passed them to the servant whom promptly led him inside.

The Negro’s English is impeccable, and he has grown into his name.

 No sooner had the thought formed into the makings of a whisper Balfour admonished himself for remaining victim to the Church’s twisted sense of Darwinism. A sense that had been ingrained in his boarding school, run by the Church of England.

 “Charles Darwin was a Christian, a God loving Christian who pioneered science and proved the superiority of Christians above Negros, Jews, Muslims and the Devil worshiping Pagans!”

 They’d said.

It wasn’t until he was posted a work of Thomas Jefferson’s – whom the pastors at the school attempted to make Christian – by his bastard father, that Balfour began to question his religious upbringing.

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

He muttered the quote.

 Inside was grand. Long curtains hung from the window frames and caressed the floor, the walls were gowned in portraits of the Lord and portraits of charming and beautiful women painted by Auguste Renoir. And landscapes of distant lands by the American Martin Johnson Heade and the German Albert Bierstadt. The Lord’s inconspicuous consumption amused Balfour. Ever since he was a child he’d yearned to understand the logic behind housing Renoir’s paintings of charming women, when the Lord himself had called his nudes, “utterly repulsive and offensive”.

The servant led Balfour up the stair onto the first level of the mansion. The wealth of the Lord had always been difficult to comprehend. The height of the flight of stairs brought the lobby of the mansion into perspective. From the landing the upper windows could see across the polluted city. Smoke spiraled from chimneys and the Brooklyn Bridge loomed menacingly in the distance with its coat of ever thickening smog.

The world of the great unwashed, oh, how I loathe the aristocracy.

 Balfour thought as he stared toward the Thames. He followed Egan past the hand railing that was carved in the likeness of the sea of Poseidon, and the arrogant poles carved as tridents that connected it to the ceiling. The Lord’s obsession with the ocean had always entertained Balfour when he was a boy. Allcott’s stories of the ocean and the monsters above and beneath had captivated his imagination. The pair arrived at a door that was shut fast and the servant knocked then entered quietly, a few moments later he returned.

“Lord Allcott will be with you shortly, he has a client. He passed comment on your promptness, though I swore I would not repeat it. And he asks that you wait in the library. He will join you when he is finished.”

 Balfour laughed and thanked the servant before making his way down the hall and into the library. There were many shelves, each one equal distance from the other in the large room. On immediate entry a chair sat in the far right corner, above it a crucifix was nailed to the wall. To the left was a corridor between the ends of the shelves and the wall, at the end of which the room opened up and a small table sat with three chairs around it.

 He walked down the first row of books, each one in its place, the way he’d remembered from when he was a boy. He took a book of Alchemy from the top shelf.

 “The shelf forbidden for developing and corruptible minds.”

  Lord Allcott’s saying echoed, while Balfour remembered pulling the chair to the side of the shelf and stepping onto it. With such ease he had taken the book from the top shelf and many others like it for years. Balfour opened the hardcover book and began to read. He’d read the book many times and could quote many of the passages, yet, he still found after all these years, he could not stomach the idea of the existence of God in a scientific text.

 It felt like it were only minutes before Lord Allcott came into the library, when in fact, it had been nearly an hour.

“M’boy, how nice it is to see you.”

 Balfour looked up from his book, the old man was pale and his robe hung about his knees. His cheeks were slowly becoming hollowed.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Lord Allcott!” Balfour rose and greeted the old man. “You startled me, that’s all.”

“Please, call me Henry, you should know better than to continue with the ‘Lord’ nonsense.”

“I’m sorry, Henry.”

 Balfour smiled as he embraced the Lord.

 They sat at the small table in the corner of the library and Egan disappeared for a few moments and returned with tea and cucumber sandwiches. He poured two cups and dropped a cube of sugar into each. Balfour had needed to cut back since his mother’s death. He wasn’t able to work and once the estate had been divided, she hadn’t left much to split between him and his brother. Allcott sat across from Balfour and watched his eyes, they were telling eyes. He seemed tired, almost defeated and his soul appeared to swim in the space behind them.  Allcott thought back to the woman in Buck’s Row, the past three weeks had been hard on them all. He sipped his tea and waited for Balfour to speak.

At last the Lord broke the sustained silence.

 “Richard Pelham is having a masquerade ball to celebrate his engagement to the sweet Mary Meldour. He’s holding it at his uncle’s house, Stuart Pelham, you may have heard of him. They are in need of a photographer. I took the liberty of giving him your name.”

 “Why would you do that?”

 “Balfour, m’boy, you need to work. At the very least it will take your mind off your mother’s death, I know that once the inheritance was…I know she didn’t leave you much.”

 “They want me to photograph a masquerade ball?”

“Yes.”

 “And you’ve told them my rate?”

 “I have given Mister Pelham your details and he is going to make contact with you. He is happy to pay whatever it costs, so you may be able to make a little bit extra.”

 “Thank you.”

 “Of course. Now,” Lord Allcott took a long drink from his tepid tea and looked directly at Balfour.

 “We need to talk about your mother. Her funeral is in a few days and I’m not sure I can attend.”

 Balfour looked at him puzzled.

 “I have an illness, a disease to be exact. And I may be too ill to travel.”

 “How long have you been sick for, is there a cure?”

 “I’m afraid not, it seems that God’s plan for me has changed and he needs me sooner. And a few weeks, perhaps a month.”

 “You’re dying, and you’ve only decided to mention it now?”

 “Yes.”

 “How much time do you have left? You should have told me sooner.”

 “There is nothing you can do and I knew, with Henrietta’s death, it would only cause more stress. Some days it feels closer than others. That’s all I can tell you. The doctors can’t give me a time themselves. They say my body is fighting it, but that, for the most part, it is getting weaker.”

 “Does it have a name?”

 “Initially, Doctor Atkinson was concerned it was consumption.”

 Balfour covered his nose and mouth and his eyes darted from Allcott to the door. The old man laughed.

 “I wouldn’t have invited you here if it were it consumption.  There is often blood when one coughs, which is lung damage, although there are no other symptoms expressing themselves. Atkinson talked to Robert Koch and if it is consumption then it will affect my other organs. We won’t know until then. There’s no need to cover yourself, Egan’s not sick and it would have been too late regardless.”

“Is it possible it’s a new type of consumption?”

 “Once again Balfour, they’re not sure. Unfortunately, I know as much as they do. This was God’s way, if He didn’t need me, then it’s safe to say, He would have given me something more curable.”

 “That’s it, is it then? You’re resigned to your death because God needs you? This is the peak of modern medicine, if Koch can’t help there must be somebody else. To think, you of all people, a man of science, of the new world, is resigning himself to this.”

 “Balfour-”

 “Henry, we’ve always disagreed on religion, and your closeness with God when you claim to be a man of science is irksome.”

 “We are pleased to believe that which we want to believe.” Lord Allcott’s words dripped with ire.  “If you could learn a little tolerance perhaps you wouldn’t be so hard on that brother of yours.”

 “That brother of mine? I should be more tolerant of him?”

 “Balfour, your accusations are nothing but hollow. Acute indigestion, there is nothing to suggest that he had anything to do with her death. He was, after all, the one to raise the alarm.”

 “You swallow explanations ever so willingly when they correspond to your beliefs, and when they do not, you simply twist them until they no longer make you gag!”

 There was a timid knock at the door to the library. It came once, then a few moments later it came again. Lord Allcott exhaled and sipped his tea. It was dead cold but allowed him a few seconds of composure. Across from him Balfour sat with his eyes toward the bookshelves.

“Yes, Egan you may come in.”

 “A note, my Lord. From the Pelhams.”

 “Ah yes, what does it say?”

 “That they’re contacting you because they’ve taken your recommendation of Balfour into account. They’ve moved the date of the ball forward and Master Pelham says he ‘understands if this new date may provide a challenge’ but that he is ‘counting on your recommendation, Lord Allcott, to be there.’ He can pay what ever price is necessary.”

Egan placed the note on the table and left the room without another word.

“Do you think they spoke to your servant?”  Lord Allcott said.

“No, he would have run a message here if they had. It’s strange don’t you think?”

Lord Allcott reached out and lifted the note from the table.

“Oh. This is problematic. It’s the same day, evening, I should say as dear Henrietta’s funeral. Will you still take the job?”

“I’m not sure I was going to take it to begin with. I suppose now I won’t have much of a choice. I should be getting on, you need your rest and I need some time, this is all terrible timing.”

“Indeed it is, they’ve moved it forward four days. Perhaps Stuart is heading to France. Balfour, I’ll see you off.”

“There’s no need, you need to rest and after all these years there’s no need for you to begin to feel obliged.”

Balfour shot him a sly smile, their transgressions had been forgiven.

 Lord Allcott stood and embraced Balfour. He remained standing while Balfour left the library and he sat down, exhausted, when the door was pulled closed. Allcott had successfully avoided an argument about Balfour’s brother, but, there was no doubt in his mind that Balfour’s beliefs hadn’t changed. He would soon go after his brother himself.

Dusk wrapped her coat tails around her legs as she made way for lady night. Balfour walked through the lamp lit streets and watched the working women gather on the roadside and the first of the drunks stagger from the pubs for their fill. If the women were lucky, they would be able to wrangle an extra coin or two from the drunks, if they were unlucky, they would have to fight for their worth.

 Balfour stalked through the streets of Whitechapel, his hands plunged into his pockets and his head down. He was heading for the Pelhams, he wanted to know them, know if they would be worth his while and more importantly, if there was a heart that would dance for him. He turned down an alleyway and it were as though the sound had been sucked from the world. All that remained was the rich beating of his heart and his feet on the cobble. Even his breath seemed to have become silence. Ahead of him, as the alley between the old decaying buildings opened up, there was a black as night carriage on the road side.

It was drawn to by two equally black stallions and Balfour could barely make out the figure of the driver on his perch. He checked his watch by the light of the half suffocated moon, but could make out only the hour hand. It was somewhere near 8 o’clock. He came close to the wall of the alley and hurried to make it to the end.

Pelham was on the move and he needed to follow him, there might be answers, experiments, at the masquerade and Balfour needed to know his family. He was sweaty with excitement and came to a stop as Stuart Pelham stepped up the steps and closed the door of his carriage. The horses stamped their feet against the cold and the driver glanced around him and pulled out onto the road. Balfour waited a few seconds before he wrapped his great coat tightly around his body and followed the slow moving carriage down the street.

The night was dead, emotionless, and motionless. Balfour stalked the carriage and varied his distance. The driver was nervous, agitated, almost afraid, he watched the nightlife with masked disdain. Balfour followed on. Past the gathering whores and the gentlemen wrapped in their coats with their heads down, feeling spent and more used than the women themselves, who seemed to waltz in their misery.

“E’ry un needs to make a livin’.”

He heard one of them say as a man placed coins into her hand.

“And e’ry un needs a little luxury.”

 She caught sight of Balfour and reached for him.

“You’d like a little luxury, wouldn’t you?”

Balfour stepped away from her and watched as the man slunk in the other direction. Aside from the workers and their patrons, the streets were empty. Pelham’s carriage was foreboding against the emptiness and seemed to be locked in some kind of solitude in the barren night. The smog had smothered the stars but the moon continued to fight against it.

“Good evening Sir.”

 A woman approached from the shadows. He stole a glance, she was beautiful. Long auburn hair, her full lips were blood red and she had a small nose that arched slightly as it came to the end, giving the impression that it was  like a button. He stopped for a moment, just to look into her eyes, and was taken by them.

 She was temptation, he looked down at her chest, and she undid a button. He reached out and stopped her, took her hand in his. In her eyes, he could see she’d been used, again and again. Not for work, no, for a pleasure she had claimed time after time was her own. Balfour held her hand and then out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow caused by a guide lamp.

 His silence released her and before she could speak, he took off after the carriage. He’d been foolish, he should have brushed her aside, she wasn’t important, not right now, he could go back to her. The road ended and Balfour came out into an intersection. Light traffic. Black carriages. He stopped at the edge of the road, Pelham it seemed, had vanished.

 Balfour scanned the streets and a third of the way down there was a man hunched over beside a large black carriage. He looked vaguely like the driver that had commanded Pelham’s horses. Balfour turned up the street toward him. As he came closer it was clear that it was Pelham’s driver. The man climbed up to his perch and he drove the horses forth. Balfour slackened and kept his head down, four guide flames now blazed, one at each corner of the carriage.

 Stuart Pelham’s carriage drove on further through the streets. Towards the poorer parts of WhiteChapel, the driver, who noticed the women, didn’t notice his predator. Balfour followed them until the carriage pulled over and the driver set down the stairs. Stuart Pelham emerged a few moments later and Balfour slowed to a stop. Pelham was a plump man, red faced, grey hair, the makings of side burns but a clean shaven chin. He wore a jacket and looked about himself before he pushed open a wooden door and disappeared down a flight of stairs. The driver stayed where he was and began to pick at some food in his hands. Balfour crossed behind the carriage and followed Pelham into the building.

 Sweaty air seemed to drip from the ceiling of the building and Stuart Pelham disappeared  below the earth. Balfour followed him, he’d been to these places before but only to fetch his father. His hands were clammy as he pushed the memory into the back of his mind and followed the steps down into the den. His thirst for knowledge and his curiosity propelled him forward. Pelham was no use to him, a dragon chaser wouldn’t have the heart he required.

 But nonetheless, there was something morbidly fascinating about watching a man fall into the grip of his vice. Balfour came down the stairs. The air below ground was revolting and heavy with smoke. Balfour couldn’t place the smell, it was like vinegar, but there was more to it. From the bottom of the stairs  the wider area of the den became visible. Men lay on divans, on the floor, and on rugs, their pipes like extended tongues before them.

 Balfour removed his coat, folded it and draped it over his arm. He was, for the most part, revolted by the stench but something, a taste on his tongue, drew him forward. It had been almost three decades since he’d gone to a den and they, this one at least, seemed as though they had never changed. He watched his step as he moved toward where he thought Pelham was, at the very least he could breathe him in. Balfour’s eyes scanned the bodies on the floor, they were as lethargic as the freshly dead, and he knew he could take any of them he wanted. He felt the blade by his side, it would take one slash, the cracking of several ribs and he could be inside their chests. Examine their hearts and begin to find the answers he’d need. He felt his fingers caress the blade and was forced to bring them away. Loss of control was close, he could taste it in the back of his throat.

No one would miss them.

 Stuart Pelham sat down on a rug and pillows at the far end of the room. Balfour knew he couldn’t sit beside him, but behind him. He drew shallow breaths, partly in response to the smoke and partly out of excitement. A masquerade ball could provide him with enough opportunities. He mustn’t kill Pelham, not even for fun. Balfour came to rest behind the man and the smoke seemed to take on a scent of its own. Pungent, almost tart, he wanted to gag as he was flooded with childhood memories.

  Coming down the steps of a den not too dissimilar to this one, desperate to avoid the constricted pupils and lethargic stares of the lolling heads. He would creep around them, then gently nudge the old man back to reality. The anger wouldn’t come until he’d slept off the high and awoken in his own bed. Many times Balfour had ventured into the dens, on some instances, his brother would come with him, on others, their mother would wait with a cab for Balfour to bring his father back to the surface. His mother had attempted to bring him out once and…Balfour shook his head and placed it in his hands, he shuddered and breathed heavily. He was nauseous and when he opened his eyes, the world shifted. Air, he needed air. He stood up on shaky feet and made his way out of the den. His coat fell and dragged along the ground as he came out onto the street.

 He collapsed against the wall of the building. Pelham’s driver looked down at him for a moment and then turned back to picking at his hands. Balfour heaved the oxygen, it would take him only a few minutes to return to normal. The cold WhiteChapel air was refreshing as it was startling against his skin. He pulled his coat around his shoulders so it fell across his body and he sat for a moment.

The driver looked back at him.

“You right there?”

 Balfour looked up, opened his mouth and exhaled slowly, his heart was in his mouth and it took him a moment to speak.

“Fine, I’m just…I’m just, I’m just fine.”

He stood up and leant against the wall for a moment then pulled his coat back on.

“You sure you’re right?”

“I’m sure. Thank you.”

 Balfour looked directly at the driver and recognition flashed somewhere in his mind. He pushed it back with the memories of his childhood and began to walk into the night. After a half hour of walking, Balfour began to breathe easily and a semblance of normality returned. He’d cursed himself many times for returning to a den. He could feel the air on his skin but by far the worst was the seeping memories that had crawled back through his mind as though they were spiders laying eggs. He walked on, without a destination for a further twenty minutes before he decided to hail a cab.

 His past had been buried, but like all buried things it could be excavated. There were few things that would bring it to the surface, the mention of his name, a den, and, he quivered at the thought of it as he was driven through the streets, a comparison to the man. His mother had once told him they were one in the same. He lightly touched his chest and could feel the coldness of the river Thames fill his lungs as it had done that night.

 Night had fallen before Balfour had woken. He’d arrived at his mother’s house, undressed and then slipped between the sheets of his bed. His dreams had been haunted and horrific, spectacles of aimless violence that had caused him to wake in cold sweats, on and off until the break of dawn.

 He willed himself to get up, to study, but he collapsed onto his pillow and fell finally asleep. He stood on the road side, his coat wrapped tightly around him, and he hailed a cab. He needed to drive, he needed to think. If he were to prove his brother guilty, he would need to begin work again immediately.

 Pelham had been a dead end and while the prospect of the masquerade ball existed, it was too far away. As he drove through the streets the public began to slip away from the night. His driver pulled the cab over, stepped down and lighted the guide lanterns. Balfour watched from the window as a man strolled past them, unknowingly becoming his next victim.

 The driver mounted his seat and commanded the horses onward. With a shout Balfour had him slow them down and the horses clopped behind the stranger. For the distance of two streets the man was followed and as time drew on, he began to quicken his pace. Then all of a sudden, he disappeared into the shadows.

 Balfour’s cab clopped along ghost like and as the man stepped out from behind the shadow it froze dead in its tracks. The horses neighed and gently reared. The air was growing cooler as the night became deeper. The driver stepped down from the cab and calmed his horses, Balfour gently approached him and paid his fare, he then pressed his fingers to his own lips and passed the man a folded bank note.

 The killer crossed onto the far side of the street and kept away from the lamps. But their light still grabbed at his limbs and begged for his return. He circled behind the man and kept his distance as the hansom drove away. The stranger, whom had slipped down the adjoining alley way and into the nook of a door, carefully made his way back onto the main street and watched the lamps of the hansom fade.

 Balfour came up behind him. His heart raced. The second abduction of his life and it already felt so natural.

“Hello, my friend.”

Balfour’s calm demeanour surprised even himself.

The man started and turned toward Balfour.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes, you can. I’m in need of some directions. I’m new to the East End.”

“Where are you from?”

 The question thundered in Balfour’s ears.

He hadn’t thought ahead.

He knew it was coming.

He reconsidered approaching the man, could he take him?

His reply forced its way through his lips.

“Far up north, a small country town that many people haven’t heard of… A place where nothing happens.”

  He tacked the last sentence on with haste.

“I see. It sounds dull. I’m from these parts, the city of WhiteChapel where everything happens. It’s best to take all the city has. As a matter of fact, my house is on Cockspur Street. Where would you like to go to?”

“There is a bar, I believe it’s  called the Shakespeare, I am meeting an associate.”

“Ah, the Shakespeare, yes that’s a wonderful bar, you are certainly a long way from it. Listen carefully, I know of a short cut down this here alley way…Yeah, you can take this alley way, go left until the road, then turn right, follow that street until the end, then take a left, on the right side of the road there will be another alley way, take that to the end. It’s a long one with many turn offs, but stay true. The end will bring a road, at the end of that road, turn right again. The Shakespeare is the bar directly on the corner. Enjoy yourself.”

He turned away from Balfour and made off in the opposite direction. Balfour lit a cigarette and watched him for a while. The stranger wasn’t far from the glow of the next street lamp when the killer stopped him.

“Excuse me, good Sir.”

 The man stopped as Balfour had predicted.

“Your memory is astounding, unfortunately mine is not so good. Could you lead the way? If you aren’t busy, of course. I can pay you.”

The stranger turned and approached Balfour, who in return, made his way toward the man. The man was older than Balfour, though not by many years, his hair flamed with gray and his thin black beard snuggled the curves of his jaw line.

“You can buy me a drink, give me a cigarette, and in the city where everything happens, we’d be fools to turn down the possibilities. I’m Robert it’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m Balfour, it’s a pleasure.”

  The pair walked toward where the street lamps that marked the road and the alleyway merged. On the other side of the pools of salvation, a man’s shadow crept forward and the tendrils of a woman’s reached out for him. Robert and Balfour passed them and slipped deeper into the networks of debauchery.

It was getting late and the cheerful screams of children playing in the darkness created a bitter contrast to the world they’d entered. The children entertained Balfour,  his attention was fixed on them and their games and the slow crawl of nostalgia. Robert talked endlessly and Balfour responded on queue, precisely when social contract demanded he do so.

 At the mid point of the alley was a lamp and its wick burned slowly and softly.

“That there lamp, that is where we are headed.”

Balfour nodded in affirmation.

 They came closer to the black moth-like figures that swarmed around its glow. Arms like wings, they gracelessly staggered from the building and across the alley in every direction. Some walked deeper, towards the pair, others left and moved on to the streets. The air around them was dense and all the more putrid because of it.

“The city where everything happens!”

 Robert cheered as he reached out towards one of the black figures. Balfour’s pulse quickened, so much beauty, over powering excitement, his resistance to the situation faltered and he was consumed by the sight of the moth-like figures, their defining scent, the beauty of their shapes and the touch of their skin as they grazed his hands.

 Surrealism, heaven, beauty, hedonism.

“The city where everything happens!”

He cheerfully exclaimed.

 Robert was now pressed against one of the figures on the dark side of the alley. They stood  20 feet from the lamp and the creatures seemed to morph into human beings. The euphoric killer was hypnotised  by the sight of them. So much so, he brushed against the woman that now had Robert pinned to the wall. She pushed her lovers face aside and turned to the childlike murderer, pulling his body close to hers.

“Good evening love, would you like to join us, there’s enough for all.”

“Elisabeth!” Robert gasped at her suggestion “do you mean to say?”

“Why not? Why can’t you, me and my new man go inside?”

“Double rate?”

 She kissed Robert in response and turned back to Balfour. She was like nothing he’d ever seen, ever experienced before. Immediately he was taken by the idea.

“Tell me Robert, what will it be? We’ve talked about it before, you can’t tell me you won’t at least entertain the idea.”

“Balfour?”

Robert looked hopeful.

 Balfour’s associate was gone from their minds. No sooner had Robert finished speaking, Balfour answered in the affirmative. Excitement oozed from his pores. Elisabeth smiled wickedly and took them both by the hand. She led them  away from the streets of debauchery and to a place where their desires dominated.

 Inside the air was musky and the foyer was lighted with lamps of flame. Naked bodies moved past them, some out to the street, some up the stairs. None were alone. Balfour felt at home in the sticky air, his clothes stuck to his skin, the air was rich with the smell of tobacco and dense with sweat, water and hot breath.

 He began to appreciate the multitudes of texture and the delicate balance of the scents. The muskiness made cameo appearances, but faded gently into the density, often giving way to the delicate fragrance of sweat which was accompanied by undercurrents of alcohol.

 The experience was wrapped gracefully in the richness of burning tobacco which snuggled its way into sinuses and whetted the taste buds. Elisabeth moved past the man at the counter and winked.

  He only smiled.

  He was a tall man, very fat and his grin was toothless. His skin was marinated in the air and gave off a gleam of sleaze. With Balfour and Robert closely in tow, the woman guided them up the stairs and into the hallway.

She took ten paces and opened the door on the right. Inside heavy drapes clung to the walls smothering any outside light with all their conviction. A dresser sat on the far side of the bed and forced itself not to be excited. The large bed rippled and clenched.

Elisabeth turned to face the two men she kissed them both, then placed a finger across each of their lips. She took slow steps as she crossed the room to the dresser. Her hand grasped the iron handle and she pulled it open.

 Her heart fluttered in her chest.

 From the drawer she took out a knife clothed in a leather sheath. Her fingers grew clammy and beads of cold sweat formed on her forehead. She discarded the leather with haste and made her way back across the room. She now stood in front of the two men, the knife lay across the palms of her hands.

  Balfour breathed heavily.

The excitement had now subsided.

Panic began to stick its needles into his flesh.

 Elisabeth dropped to her knees, bowed her head and placed the backs of her hands flat onto the sheets. Balfour attempted to slow his breathing. Robert lifted the knife from her hand. Sweat dripped down Balfour’s face. He became acutely aware of the room around him. The floor was wooden, wet in places. The sheets of the bed had their own stench.

 Different from the room, different from the foyer. A heavy stench, he felt its fingers on his face.  Balfour stood behind the man, who stood behind the woman. Robert lifted the woman’s dress and pressed the tip of the knife against her skin below her corset. Blood trickled from the small puncture. She rose to a crouch as he lifted the knife higher.

“Her dress.”

 He commanded.

Balfour crouched at his feet and held the dress tight.

“Stand.”

 Elisabeth obeyed the command. Balfour grew sick. Their ritual was like nothing he’d ever dreamed.  Elisabeth stood and the knife cut the back of her dress. The more she stood, the higher the cut until the knife finished its path at the top of her neck. Balfour released the tension. Robert handed him the knife and tore the split dress from the woman’s body.

“Her corset. Now.”

 Robert said.

 As a photographer, as a murderer, Balfour had studied people to the point of obsession. Before his first kill he had learnt behaviour for weeks. The change in Robert was something he hadn’t seen before. Something he couldn’t cope with. His body surged. His mind raced and centered on one thought.

 His death.

“Now!”

The voice tore the silence and Robert dragged Balfour up.

“On the bed!”

 Balfour followed his command and pinned Elisabeth onto the bed, with her chest facing down. He mounted her, then lifted her corset with his fingers and slipped the knife blade beneath it. The ties on the corset cut easily and he pulled it out from underneath her. Her skin was a milky white, and Balfour could not resist running his fingers down her spine.

Her warm body made his finger tips prickle. He looked away from her, toward the drapes as Robert, now naked, knelt on the bed. Elisabeth writhed and reached for him. She turned her head to the side and spoke to Balfour as her nails raked the other man’s thighs.

“Are you going to play, or not?”

Without answering, knife in hand, he climbed off her. She lunged toward Robert’s groin. Balfour stood at the end of the bed, transfixed. He undressed without taking his eyes from Elisabeth as she begun her work.

  For a few moments he tamed his thoughts, he wasn’t going to die. This was their game and they’d taken control. He gave himself to them. His body was electrified and his mind pulsed as he watched the bodies contort.

 His deepest desires had come to life and all he could do was be dominated by them. He followed their commands while one question circulated in his mind.

Ecstasy or murder?

 Both would result in pleasure.

 Balfour climbed onto the naked bodies, and hands ran across milky white skin, shallow breaths filled the air. Balfour felt Robert’s hands on his legs, his lips on his, his tongue gently slide into his mouth. Then he felt Elisabeth’s warm body as he lay back amongst the sheets and allowed the waves of passion to wash over him. The other two never stopped writhing and biting. Balfour ran a hand down each of their backs, then back up again. He trailed his fingers along their heads. Light and heavy touch coursed through his body.

He reached for the bed posts and his hands grasped a knot of silk on each post. He pulled it hard and the silk rope climbed over onto the bed.

 Robert saw them from the corner of his eye.

“Elisabeth.”

He breathed.

She looked up and moved up Balfour’s body.

She knew what was next.

Robert guided them and Elisabeth lay on her back. A man took each arm and bound it tightly with the rope. Robert began to caress the milky skin. Balfour leant back.

 She is too beautiful for death. There are not enough with such beauty. The long brown hair, the body patterned with imperfections.

 Perfectly imperfect.

 Balfour thought to himself.

 Her skin was characterised by blemishes and textured with freckles. She was sublime. She stood out against a world whose whores were flawless and whose women were expected to match its whores.

 I will keep her, I will keep her from God, away from his image.

 Balfour’s mind returned to Robert. In the lull of commands and midst of their passion, Balfour slipped away and searched the dresser.  He took from it a velvet tie. Robert’s dominance was now focused on Elisabeth and feeling like Iago, Balfour kissed Robert’s neck, he would take him from her.

 His hands glided across Robert’s  back and he pushed himself into him. They knelt between Elisabeth’s open legs. Balfour tied Robert’s hands behind his back then reached down and picked up the knife. Power surged through him. His focus was clear. His pleasure heightened.  He felt control, he felt power.  Waves crashed over his body as he drove the knife in and cut up the man’s stomach.

 It felt better than the first time. He dropped the knife and pushed his fingers into the wound, reaching for the man’s heart. He covered his mouth with his left hand and kissed his neck. Elisabeth screamed. Why did she have to scream? Her scream broke as he climaxed. Balfour pushed the man aside and dragged up a corner of the duvet. He filled her mouth, then pulled Robert onto the floor. Balfour gagged his prey with the torn dress and pushed deeper into the wound.

 The man’s fist pounded on the wooden door. He stood saturated underneath the alcove. He pounded his fist again and again.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!”

 Greeted him as the locks slid on the door and the flame of a candle flickered against the rain. An old man stood in his gown in the doorway and stared wide eyed at his oldest friend.

“Jesus Christ.”

  The only words that were shared between the two of them before the old man stepped aside and motioned for him to enter.

“What in God’s name happened to you, Balfour?”

“I have never heard you cuss so much in my life, Lord Allcott.”

 Balfour answered with frightening calm, but the old man was perceptive and felt the small electrified hints of fear.

“What have you done?”

 He dismissed Balfour’s comment and shuddered.

“It was about mother-”

“Jesus.”

 The Lord crossed himself.

The remainder of blood on Balfour’s hands had begun to dry as he stood in front of Lord Allcott’s fireplace.

“I have moved past theories, I feel I need to obtain a functioning, healthy human heart to determine what happened.”

 The old man fell back into his chair with his head in his hands. His response was slow and hoarse.

“Have you..?”

“Killed somebody? Yes, two people.”

 The man’s face grew much graver and very pale.

 “One person completely, I should add.”

“One person completely? Balfour, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to this. Why are you here?”

“The second person is bleeding to death in a Gentleman’s Club in the alleyway. I don’t know the name, but I know how to get there.”

 Cold sweats had taken over Lord Allcott. His skin was clammy and he shook violently. He could not conjure the anger and repulsion he felt he should have  expressed.

“I need you to sew him up. There’s no one else I can turn to.”

Each word hit the old man’s ears like a steam engine.

 “Please, Lord Allcott.”

 Balfour’s voice had now changed as the enormity of the situation came down on him. The words came out like the final cries of a wounded animal. His throat was dry, yet he continued.

“We don’t have long. There is someone else. She’s not hurt, but she saw everything.”

“So no one is dead yet, there are two people that are still alive, but one of them is dying?

Allcott paused as though he were waiting for a response but continued before Balfour could give one.

“Where is she now? Oh holy mother forgive my sins. Balfour, what have you done? What have you done?”

 The old man raised his hands to the ceiling and began to sob.

 “Could you not have been happy as a man of the cloth? Living life under the grace of God? This is my fault. I am responsible. I poisoned you with Marx and that blasted science of Alchemy.”

Allcott fell forward onto his knees and wept as he muttered a prayer.

“There is no God!”

Balfour’s vehemence toxic.

 “There is only science. He killed her and I must know how. The autopsy was inconclusive, it was written by a man of the cloth, there are no answers, only questions. Allcott, I am asking you as a friend.”

“I will not be involved in your Devil worship. I love you, like a son Balfour, but  don’t ask me to sacrifice my place in Heaven to do the work of the Devil.”

“Then he will die.”

The old man now stood across from Balfour, having found the strength to rise to his feet. The four simple words shook his core. He considered his options, knowing not if God would forgive involvement in a horrific attack no matter the amount of repenting. But would he forgive involvement in a murder if he turned down the opportunity to save a life? Lord Allcott took neither option.

“That is what you wanted, is it not, the death of a man to feed your Satanic obsession?”

“No, it was not my intention-”

 Balfour’s half truth was cut off by a noise above them. Neither dared to move as the servant leant over the rail and looked down into the colossal foyer.

“Master, are you down there?”

“Yes Egan, what’s the matter?” The Lord’s response was forced.

“I heard shouting.”

“You need not worry I couldn’t sleep  and was reading from Hamlet, I suppose I was a little carried away. I am sorry I woke you. Back to bed now.”

“We must get you to the doctor about your sleep my Lord.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Goodnight Master.”

“Goodnight.”

“My intention was never to kill him.”

  Balfour continued, weaving the lie as he spoke

 “He did not have the heart I was looking for he doesn’t need to die. Will you save him? Will you do the work of God?”

 The Hackney cab arrived at the top of the alley in a shroud of darkness. Balfour climbed down and opened the door for the Lord. He carried with him a bag, the contents of which, was of a various medical nature. They discussed briefly how they would enter as they walked to the door of the brothel. Once inside they were greeted the by the fat bald man at reception.

“Go’d ev’ning Gentlemen. I believe to‘ve seen you b’fore.”

 He motioned towards Balfour.

“Yes, I was here earlier with Robert and Elisabeth. She had me search for another man to add to our party. She is quite the adventurous one.”

 Balfour laughed.

 “Aye, she b’ quite that. So do you” the man smiled “know the way?”

“Yes, thank you”

Balfour responded.

“Enjoy” followed them as they mounted the stairs.

 The pair moved with such haste the thick stench of the brothel had difficulty grasping their skin and their breath banished it from their nostrils. Lord Allcott crossed himself outside the door to the room. Without speaking, Balfour opened it. The candles had burned low and a few flickered before being drowned in their own wax. Elisabeth lay tied to the bed gagged with the duvet. Her eyes were stricken with horror, her milky skin gleamed with the beads of a cold sweat. The air was dense, it tasted of passion and sweat and blood, it was almost sweet.

 Robert’s naked body lay in a pool of his own blood. His hands bound behind his back. In an instant Allcott fell to his knees. He threw his bag open and took from it scissors, bandages, and thread for stitches. With immense haste he cut the bandages. All the while Robert’s blood soaked through to his knees. Balfour lapsed into fantasy. The Lord pressed onto the wound and with frantic conviction he attempted to clean it as blood spilled onto his fingers.

“Balfour, keep pressure on the wound and wash it.”

 The lord leant back on his calves and threaded the first needle, his assistant cleaned the opening.  Balfour then placed pressure on the second half of the wound and Lord Allcott pinched the edges. Slowly, Lord Allcott punctured the edge of the wound with the tip of the needle. He pushed it through the opposite side of disconnected flesh and drew it forward until the thread completed the stitch.

Allcott finished the second, then the third. On the fourth stitch Robert’s lethargic head fell onto the floorboards. The blood had drenched the third set of bandages through to Balfour’s fingers. He changed them quickly and the pair continued to work in silence. Elisabeth occasionally struggled against her bonds.

  The last of the candles burnt down and they were enveloped by darkness.  It was moments before the hiss of a burning match filled the air, followed by the ignition of a small candle which, at best, only lit the immediate area. Away from the three men the warm glow of the candle was ingested by madam night who then extended her tongue as she came towards Elisabeth’s body. Her face was frozen with terror. Lord Allcott finished the fifth, sixth and seventh stitches.

“Never ask that of me again, Devil worshiper.”

Balfour responded with silence but the old man continued in his rage as he sewed the last stitch.

“The Devil will have you Balfour. The Devil I tell you! He will have your soul. You cannot turn back from this path. You could have strayed from the path of  God-”

he stopped only to clean the blood from around the wound then continued,

 “repent repent repent! Even that may not be enough to save my place in heaven. You are a Marxist and you will be the death of me. No, no, not just me, the death of us all, You non believers. God will not show you mercy on the day of judgement!”

Still Balfour did not respond, he wouldn’t beg for mercy from a dictator. He focused on a way to change the subject, there were, after all, greater tasks at hand.

“And the bodies?”

“That has nothing to do with me. My work is done. What happens now is not for my eyes, but for the eyes of God. Goodbye Balfour.”

The Lord packed his bag, then stood up, turned and left without another word.

 Balfour sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at Elisabeth. He held his watch in one hand and the candle in the other. Too much time had already past and nothing had gone according to plan. He thought long of the front pages of the morrow’s dailies. 

Lethal Ritual At Brothel /One Man Missing, Another  Bleeds to Death as Lady of The Night Watches.

 Balfour turned to Elisabeth and kissed her breasts. He began to weep as he cuddled into her stomach. His hands were coarse with dry blood. She couldn’t scream, she could hardly breathe. He listened intently to her heart. He didn’t know if Robert’s was even beating. If it was he wanted to listen. Her heart was healthy, strong. A dream state consumed him, his mother’s murderer, his brother, tormented his thoughts. His first kill prickled him like rain on hot skin, the thought of his second excited him immensely.

“O’ how beautiful you are, so beautiful. I could never kill you, so beautiful.”

He turned his mouth toward her skin and kissed her. With every one of his movements her muscles tensed. Once he was calm again they relaxed. He turned his head toward her face.

“You are simply the most beautiful. I cannot kill you, I will not kill you, but you cannot tell. No, no, you cannot tell.  Because I must know, I must know how he did it. How she died, I must know. Can I trust that you won’t tell anybody?”

The woman nodded heavily eight times.

“Will you swear to God?”

 He laughed as he said it, she nodded more.

“You must then know, I cannot untie you, for there are things that I must do. You have helped me a lot. I trust you. Thank you for listening.”

 Balfour climbed off the woman having rediscovered his resolve. He looked down at the bloodied man on the floor. He gathered Robert’s clothes and then stood over him once more. His candle was near death. It was the last. He placed it near the man’s face and the dying flame threw shadows that hollowed out his eyes, and clung to his high set cheek bones. The pale face was a shell of the burning passion that had flared hours previous. Balfour dropped the man’s shirt and coat into a heap on the ground.

 Holding only his trousers, he crouched down and dragged them up Robert’s legs. Then, with his hands underneath his arms he lifted the unresponsive heap against the wall and with a struggle buttoned Robert’s shirt and placed his coat over his shoulders. Balfour sat back onto the bed. Robert didn’t move. Neither did Elisabeth. After a few minutes Balfour rose, and lifted the man over his shoulder. He slapped his face a few times and Robert began to stir. With that he turned to Elisabeth.

“Thank you.”

He said as he exited.

 Balfour stepped onto the street, the rain pelted down, Robert was hunched over his shoulder and he stood only by the grasp of Balfour’s hand on his belt. The moth prostitutes fluttered in and out of the light and pushed past the pair as they led clients into the brothel. A homeless man sat in the corner between the brothel and a residential building. Balfour rested Robert against the wall then bent down towards the man, and looked into his eyes.

“Sir, my friend is very much in need of a drink.”

“I see ye wif my ‘ere eye. Ye com’ owt that ‘ere brothel does ya, loteses monies you has. I know.”

“Please, sir, we were attacked in the brothel and we are need of a drink, will you help us?”

 The homeless man looked away, and nuzzled his corner. Balfour rose to his full height, he turned hastily around. Prostitutes staggered, others  didn’t make it to their rooms, used for all they were worth against the building’s wall. There was the shrill scream of a woman from afar. Balfour stepped closer to the man. Robert stirred, his head lolled. Balfour drew his foot back and drove it into the side of the homeless man’s head. It stopped against the brick wall. The murderer bent down and took the bottle from the man, then covered him with his blanket.

“Good evening isn’t it sir?”

Balfour turned slowly.

 “I’m Constable Goldsworth, and what brings you to this part? It doesn’t look as though you are the type of person to be here.”

 The man’s head was covered in a bell shaped helmet and his gold buttons glinted in the light.

“Tis a lovely night officer, and yes you are certainly right, my friend here-”

Balfour motioned to Robert whose full weight was on Balfour’s shoulder.

“Has had a bit much fun, if you get my meaning, for one night and as we were leaving this man asked for a drink. Though it seems he has had far too much and has passed out.”

“I see, yes, his name is Albert, he has been living here for as long as I have been an officer, a mighty long time. And your friend, may I speak to him?”

Robert half opened his eyes, the world revolved like a coin flipping through the air, the policeman and Balfour flickered like candle light in his vision. He tried to call out, but his side burned and his mouth dropped helplessly open. Breath leaked from between his teeth like a deflating lung. The policeman crouched down in front of him.

Balfour took a swig from the bottle.

 “Good evening sir, it looks like you’ve had a little bit much to drink, a wild night with the ladies?”

  Robert saw the flash of his crucifix necklace.

 Balfour thought through the science of killing him and mapped out his weak points.

The policeman continued.

“Are you okay son? Or are you in need of some help?”

 Robert fought to answer

“I….Hel…..St…” fell lifeless from his lips.

“I’m sure he’s fine, officer.”

Said Balfour as he approached the bobby.

“He’ll be fine with a drink, he can sit for a while, it’s out of the rain here.”

Balfour raised the bottle.

“Doctors orders! Then we’ll be on our way.”

 The officer stepped back and Balfour sat Robert down beside the homeless man. He placed the bottle in Robert’s hand and guided it to his mouth. The brown liquid was forced down his throat.

 “Where do you live?” The officer said as Robert swallowed the liquid.

“Drink up!”

Balfour menaced before he turned his head toward Goldsworth.

“It isn’t far one or two blocks, I can get him home.”

“No, no, I will help you, it’s my duty. You must be careful these days, gentlemen. There were two murders in Buck’s Row, two people had their throats cut they did, mighty awful. Both of them women, one was a whore, if you don’t mind me saying, the other, was rather unremarkable. Had her stomach cut open. Strange how interesting things happen to ordinary people… You get him out of the rain and I’ll organise the Black Maria.”

 Balfour moved Robert toward a door way, their clothes were now soaked through and the pair huddled as the officer disappeared from view.

“A Presbyterian?”

Balfour scathed.

 He took the bottle from between his companion’s limp fingers and drank long. The alcohol burned his throat and he spluttered as it spilled over his lips. Poison. But it cleared his head. He lifted it towards Robert’s lips, and the wounded man turned his head toward the brick wall. Balfour forced the pair into a poison kiss and the inanimate lover spilt her venom into Robert’s mouth.

 He threw up once.

Then again.

The bobby came back down the alley leading the Black Maria. His partner climbed out as it stopped beside Robert and Balfour.

“Are these them, Harry?”

Balfour held Robert about the waist and stroked his back, vomit dripped from his chin.

“This is them.” Constable Harry Goldsworth looked toward his Sergeant, then turned back to Balfour and Robert.

“Gentlemen” he began “I’m sorry we don’t have something more comfortable. It’s been a quiet night, there is nobody in the back. This is my partner, Sergeant John Mayfield, he will be accompanying us on the journey, then we need to return to work.”

Robert groaned as he stopped himself from throwing up.

“Thank you officers that’s very kind of you, my house is number…”

 Balfour hesitated.

“29 Hanbury Street… do you know the way?”

“Hanbury Street, yes I live at number 36, I never thought I’d see someone from Hanbury down here on a night like this. Number 29? Are you-”

“John, can we discuss it once we have them in the Maria and we’re out of the rain?”

 The officer cut off Sergeant Mayfield then moved towards Robert.

“We’ll take him sir, you climb inside.”

“No, I’ll take him. He can be a little bit violent when he’s drunk. You wouldn’t think it now, but he has a tendency to lash out. I don’t want to cause you anymore trouble than we already have. I’ll take him.”

 Balfour placed Robert’s arm over his shoulder and holding onto his belt, the wound pressed against Balfour’s side, he dragged him toward the Maria. Sergeant Mayfield took Robert’s other arm over his shoulder.

 “Sir, help me…”

Robert uttered.

 The utterance was lost to Balfour under the sound of the rain. Sergeant Mayfield’s reply wasn’t lost to the rain.

“We are helping you, we’re going to get you into the Maria where it’s safe.”

  Balfour’s blood ran like oil, the entire evening played out in his mind, he thought of Elisabeth bound to the bed posts. How long had it been? He faltered and almost dropped Robert. Mayfield corrected him then finished his sentence as they climbed into the back.

“Then we are going to take you home.”

The Maria clopped down the road, quite the distance from the brothel before, Mayfield broke the silence.

 “Gentlemen, I don’t believe you’ve introduced yourselves.”

“I’m sorry Sergeant, this is Robert” Balfour said as he pushed the man’s lethargic head off his shoulder.

“And I am Balfour.”

“Ah! Balfour, I knew your address rang a bell. I was one of the officers that investigated Mrs Worsham’s death. I am truly sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

He opened his mouth to quiz Mayfield, but instead exhaled.

“And Robert’s surname would be?” Constable Goldsworth chimed in.

 Balfour wrangled with the question and before long the officer spoke again.

“You do know it, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

 Balfour assured him, though unsure of himself.

 “It is Hancock, Mister Robert Hancock.”

  He proclaimed rather pleased with himself.

Robert stirred in the seat beside Balfour. He opened his eyes cautiously and scanned the cell before the Maria jarred over a pot hole and his chin collided with his chest.

“I see you’re awake! You must be feeling better and we’re almost home.”

 Again, Robert opened his eyes a fraction, he searched for the voice but found only Balfour. Panic took him in its ice cold grasp, it pushed its claws into his heart and with a jolt he attempted to stand up right. He placed one leg in front of the other and left the seat before he collapsed toward Mayfield.

 “Easy, easy. You’re okay now, we have you, you’re safe.”

“I’m sorry.” Balfour apologised “he can be like this, he isn’t a good drunk, though this isn’t the worst I’ve seen him.”

I’ve finished a new novel!

There’s nothing like blowing your own horn, especially as the title of a blog you want people to read, but alas, I’m going to do it.

I’ve literally just typed “The End” in capital letters at the bottom of my newest manuscript. Which explains why I’ve not posted since September 10. In all truth, I would much rather write than spend the time working on blog posts. And that’s exactly what I have been doing.

The newly finished novel is titled The Revolution’s Dancers and is the sequel to All Women Can Dance. I’m working on a trilogy and, naturally, the final book remains untitled and unstarted. I do know how it begins, which is fairly exciting in itself.

A note on writing series; I have a new found respect for writers that spend so long with the same characters. It’s akin to spending hours and hours a day talking to the same people in a one sided conversation. Except the conversation is taking part in their head, not yours, and you’re the one listening. Writing is completely different experience to reading and, I believe, that’s in part due to the different relationship between writer and character and reader and character.

Nonetheless, I’ll be starting book the third as soon as I’ve recharged and the creative energies are back in balance.

That’s all from me at the moment, I’m certain it won’t be too long before I start having conversations with myself here again.

Much love,

Dante. x

P.S.

There aren’t prizes for finding post novel writing typos 🙂

For My Dearest: an open letter for suicide prevention day

For my dearest,

Today is Suicide Prevention day, it’s the day where we’ll wear orange and may even write “love” on our arms. It’s the one day of the year where suicide is at the forefront of the minds of the masses. One day, every year. On today, we show our support for people like you, that are struggling with tendencies, hopelessness, the suicide attempts.

There’s one thing that’s particularly important about today.

Amongst all the attention, the sea of orange, the banners and the community events.

The most important thing, is that you don’t feel forgotten.

We only have one day for suicide prevention, but the truth is, it’s something that people just like you deal with every day. Some people deal with it every second day and others every now again. We’re all the same, we’re all struggling to keep our heads above the water and we’re doing what ever we can to stay afloat.

You’re doing your best, and I can see that and I’m so proud of you. I know it doesn’t always work out like you’d planned, sometimes you relapse and cut again, or smoke that cigarette, or take the drugs. But that’s okay. We all fall off the wagon sometimes. What matters most, is that you’re still here, you’re still fighting. The cuts will heal and they’ll scar and they’ll fade. Above all else, they’ll remind you that you made it through the night. That, despite your pain and your mistakes, you are strong, you are beautiful, you are brilliant. Whether you read this tonight, or tomorrow, or the one after, there is something that no one can take away from you. There will always be a new day. You can put down the razor or the bottle or the pills and you can start again tomorrow.

I know you can do it, you’ve done it before and you’ve thought about it time and time again. I know you have, I know that you have the strength to put them down and walk away.

I believe in you.

today may not be all that different for you, but it’s another day. It’s a day that you’ve gifted yourself. Another chance to smile, to enjoy the sun, the rain, the clouds, the animals.

Living is like writing a book, you place one word in front of the other and you keep going. When it’s hard, it’s horrendous, but when it’s good, it’s amazing. Keep placing one day before the last. Look down every now and again and enjoy the beauty around us, look toward the horizon if ever you find yourself dark and lost and keep moving forward.

Remember, pain is not permanent. The pain that you feel now will pass, just as the pain that’s come before it has past. It will give way to days where living hurts a little bit less and gradually, it will give way to days where you don’t hurt at all.

You can do this.

Even after suicide prevention day has past, you can keep fighting and keep breathing, and keep dreaming. Find something you love, find something you’re good at, do it, be great at it, and above all else, realise this;

It’s not our mistakes that define us, it’s how we grow and learn from those mistakes that makes us who we are.

You are always in my thoughts, I’m proud of you.

I love you.

Dante.

In defence of the dictionary

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The dictionary has been recording British English since Richard Mulcaster (regarded as the founder of English language lexicography) wrote a non-alphabeticised list of 8,000 English words in 1592. He titled the volume Elementarie and was the first to make such a list (the first purely English alphabetical dictionary came in 1604). In 2013, centuries later, when Shakespeare still dances on the tongues of performers and readers  view his language as almost alien, The Oxford English Dictionary has once again made the headlines for a ‘travesty’. The word ‘literally’ now officially has two meanings.

Literally is often used as an intensifier (to say the 1,000 page epic was literally 1,000 pages) and also to say something is the way it is, the telephone was literally ringing. The word has also been used figuratively, to say one is ‘literally dying of laughter’ when one is in fact doing nothing of the sort.

With it’s addition to the Oxford English Dictionary the figurative usage of the word is no longer wrong. Unfortunately, this means that next time you hear a teenager “like literally dying” of whatever it may be, you can no longer reprimand their insolence, though the purists may still. And if you’re a purist nodding in agreement or fuming at the travesty’s waltz into officialdom, it’ll pay to remember two facts; the first incorrect usage of the word literally occurred in 1769; and the dictionary is a recorder of words, not a creator.

Essentially, no matter where you stand on this issue, The Oxford English Dictionary causes us to stare the changes of the language in the face. It was over a century after the first English dictionary was written that we have a recorded misuse of the word, over three hundred years later, the misuse has become official. It isn’t the first time the editors of the dictionary have put us in this position (and the way we’re heading, it won’t be the last). Other words include; Lol, Grrrl, and Meatspace (which sounds as though it could have been a blue movie), among many other horrifying terms (yes, I’m treating them as nouns for emphasis). The simple truth is that these words were added due to the proliferation of their usage. Phrases that have swept across the language and have themselves evolved (lol no longer means ‘laugh out loud’ exclusively, and is used to soften a sentence or indicate sarcasm) along the way.

It’s the adaptability of the language and those that come up with such ridiculous terms that are to blame. Words such as twitter didn’t exist before the website, and if someone ‘tweets’ it’s generally accepted that they shared information, not made a bird call. The role of the dictionary is to record the changes in the language and neologisms as they come into popular usage. It’s important to remember that this has always been the prime purpose of a dictionary. To stare accusingly at the editors as they walk down the street or declare you’ll never use a dictionary again is, frankly, a cop-out.

It pays for us all to check our vocabularies for the words we love to despise. Because your bank teller and your mother are as equally responsible as that teenager you know. The English language will continue to grow and change and for those that think 19th century English was the pick, it’ll be a hard journey. It wasn’t until the post Chaucerian era (possibly as late as the 1600s) that the letter k became silent in; knee, knick-knack, knife &c. An evolutionary phrase in the language that is often over looked, there is, phonetically speaking, no reason for k to be in the above words, but it’s recorded in the dictionary as so and no spelling alteration has taken place.

Without the dictionary, we would be lost. While it’s more common to consult the internet for the correct spelling of a word your word processor doesn’t recognise (mine still gets tripped up with s not z) these words had to come from somewhere. When Shakespeare and his contemporaries were writing, there was no such dictionary (which, I should add, formalised the correct spelling of the words it recorded) and we know Shakespeare often spelt his name at least seven different ways. To compound the issue, the words he used were oft’ unfamiliar to his audience or had never been used before. Which one can imagine led to a rather confusing state of affairs.

For as much as we have the dictionary to thank for recording words, we have to thank it for finalising the spelling of those words. English instead of being based on phonetics, is now a system of unalterable letters, which, when placed in the correct order, are instantly recognisable. Instead of lamenting the addition of colloquialisms and the latest trends, thank your dictionary. Thank it for giving us a workable system of written communication that in its current form cannot be changed or altered (in regards to spelling) and be thankful, purists, that you can still literally aim at the employers of ‘yous’ and ‘u’ and ‘whateva’.

Hug your dictionary and remember, it is simply the impartial recorder of the writhing chaos that is the English language.

Historical fiction; changing the past to entertain the present

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana.

George Santayana, it seems, was unfortunately correct and to compound the issue it also appears that most people do not remember the past. There is, however, a breed of people that dedicate their lives to creating and recreating and changing the past. I don’t mean Historians, they for one would perhaps be appalled at the amount of oxymoron’s in that last sentence. I’m talking about writers of Historical Fiction. Everyone from Bernard Cornwell to Markus Zusak and Philippa Gregory who span the depths of time to bring us stories from our past that may or may not have happened.

It’s wise to take all things Historical Fiction with a hint of caution towards the reality. Many writers of the genre are fantastic in their factual accuracies but these are, first and foremost, fictions. Tales that have been woven from actual events or locations and points in the past. There are tales of people that might have existed and of course tales about people who never really did. What makes the genre so rich is that you never can tell. One only has to look toward the Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene, indeed many of his contemporaries, to see how little we really know about the people of the Elizabethan era. Record keeping was scarcely enforced and while we know Greene’s dates of birth and death (11 July 1558- 3 September 1592) there is contention as to whether he was born to an Innkeeper or a Sadler.

Greene is one of the thousands of Englishmen of whose lives we have only limited record. We know he was a playwright and had a rivalry with Shakespeare, his life style and pamphlets ruffled their fair amount of collars but it was hardly unusual for the time.  Seeing his life filled in with a historical fiction twist would be a delight, as it always is with the many characters and figures who we will never know outside of their name.

The point of Historical Fiction is to tell a story. The relevant facts are of course interesting and useful in setting a scene. They are ultimately important but it does pay to remember that Historical Fiction writers are not historians. Mistakes will be made, the past as we know it will be altered and bent to suit the narrative. Zusak’s masterpiece The Book Thief does exactly that. It’s a novel that tells the story of a young girl called Liesel Meminger, who falls in love with books and begins to steal them (if you haven’t read it, do. It is worth every second). The Book Thief is also narrated by Death, a unique and wonderful character in of itself.

Zusak’s novel is set in NAZI Germany and one of the wonderful things about historical fiction is that it sweeps across the pages of history. On the opposite side, is nearly every Bernard Cornwell book ever written that takes place between at least 1365 and 1779 (Cornwell’s catalogue is massive, I’ve simply chosen two dates). History has been kept since the first cave wall paintings began recording hunts and rituals and much like our writers today, Historical Fiction as always been apart of it.

Human history is complex, rich and thrilling, yet there is still so much about it we don’t know. We’re lucky to have some of the surviving documents we have and with these and timelines constructed by historians, Historical Fiction writers are able to show us the past in ways that we’ve never seen it before. They can give life to the names and show how great events influenced the lives of the common folk who, for the most part of history have been overlooked.

Events in historic plays from across the centuries were, to degrees, works of Historical Fiction. While the mind set may have changed, the events were close enough to the production of the fiction to be fresh in the mind of the audience, fictional reproductions of history have been taking place for centuries. It is a wonder then, with this and the great work  historians have done that Santayana’s quote can ring so truly.

History surrounds us and the output of Historical Fiction is now greater than it ever was. A genre dedicated solely to humanity’s greatest achievements and failures makes certain that we’ll never forget them. The genre is important because of the purpose it serves, even pure Historical Fiction that is based only loosely on facts and geography, still reminds us of cultures we’ve left behind and the way humanity hasn’t changed.

 

Thoughts on books: The Girl Who Played With Fire & The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

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Often a series can go one of two ways, it can continue on the upward would climb and it can become an epic, or it can tumble and leave for you yearning for book one. Stieg Larsson’s The Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest did the latter. For that reason I’m combining them into one thought, so to speak, because my observations on both are similar. The first installment in the series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a crime thriller epic with a deep and interesting plot and refreshing characters. On the other hand, the sequels are equally thrilling but with a heavy dose of recapping and repetition, which, while it can serve to be useful, is laden on to the point of annoyance.

Credit where credit is due however, both novels reveal more of the enigma that is Salander. We have a (very effective) teasing out of Lisbeth Salander’s personality, her past and the inside of her mind. This alone makes the novels worth reading. To add to that, there is nothing cheap about Larsson’s story telling, there is no feeling of reproduction and over used storyline but the method does wash toward that direction (the repetition of Larsson’s novels comes from his recaps of the previous books, personality traits and scenes in the books).

For the most part, his suspension of disbelief is effective, and on the moments where it does waver, it’s covered up rather effectively by suspense and intensity. Example, Miriam Wu and Paulo Roberto face off against the feel no pain giant that dominates The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. As you can imagine (although it does seem bleak for a few seconds) our good guy characters come out on top with something that resembles a very painful blow and brings the giant to his knees. Where the suspension of disbelief falters (remember, the giant can’t feel pain) we’re almost too concerned with Wu’s well being to care…almost.

Now, to bring out the knives. Firstly, and this is only a small matter, Mikael Blomkvist drinks more coffee than anyone man should do in a life time. Perhaps I’m ignorant to Swedish coffee rituals but Mikael seldom downs anything other. On a serious note, the close of The Girl Who Played With Fire and the opening of  The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest are seamless. When you open the first pages of the finale, you’re confronted immediately with the aftermath. Plenty of novels will begin with action to draw the reader in, but fewer will pick at the exact moment the previous volume left off.  Consider that a final breath. Because after Lisbeth Salander is shot three times (including one in the head) and buried alive, but she manages to dig herself out of the grave. With a cigarette case. Thankfully, not a cigarette packet. While I admire Larsson’s willingness to destroy his lead character and then bring her back from the dead, the self excavation is too much to believe.

Similarly, her quasi suicidal venture into a hurricane is, although pulse inducing and fast enough to make you feel slightly sick, equally unbelievable. It seems the already over-equipped Salander will do anything except die.  And this only fails the story. She is human enough to suffer through more than her fair share of defeats and injuries but she’s also machine enough to be able to come back from any attack with an outwitting move and fatal blow. Book two of the series deteriorates into a Lisbeth Salander appreciation novel and her abilities not only far out shadow those of her companions, she out shadows even those attempting to take her life.

From this point it feels as though the only thing holding the books together is Larsson’s ability to write action and suspense. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t more than a few heart in the mouth moments, but they are also the best parts of the books. Blomkvist and Salander are racing against time and their deadly enemies to discover the secrets they hold and to answer their questions, in exactly the same way they were doing so in the first novel. It does seem tired and it also feels as though Larsson takes the step into cliche crime writer. A place I was desperately hoping he would avoid, but it seems as though he only gave himself one direction to go.

We’re able to see a lot of growth in Salander’s character. She becomes slightly more extroverted toward Blomkvist, and we’re given a glimpse into her tender side when she braves the hurricane to save her boy lover. That said, these revelations come slowly and while they are not by default a bad thing, you sometimes want to give her a shove (an example of best parts of Larsson’s writing). Her’s isn’t the only character we get to spend time with. Erika Berger’s tenure at a new newspaper is closely watched and becomes an important sub plot. It gives a lot of light and a lot of time to a character we don’t see a lot of in the first installment of the book. Unfortunately Blomkvist stays more or less the same, we see the same resolve that we’ve seen in the prior book(s), but he is driven through books two and three by the deaths of his friends Dag and Mia.

The Girl With Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest are peppered with great moments of writing. And despite the weaknesses of the books, they are page turners and they are entertaining, but this isn’t to say they are risk free entertainment.  The books are certainly worth reading to find out what happens to Salander as a person, but end of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is successful enough that is doesn’t need to continue. If you can deal with a little mystery and ambiguity, leave Salander to fester in the back of your mind and from that, the character can continue to grow. Without the threads of Salander’s life trailing off the end of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo the sequels aren’t vital reading.

Note: I’ve just begun War & Peace, which is already beyond anything I would have thought. That means there will be a few weeks away from Thoughts On Books, while finish it and write my chapter summaries into something coherent. 

Fairy tales; the loved, the lost, and beginnings.

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Fairy Tales are often the first introductions to story telling. They are, for the most part, better know as fables from Disney and for many writers (and readers alike) they become life long companions. Fairy Tales by definition are short stories that involve goblins, fairies, trolls, witches and other folklore fantasy (at least according to the cynics) creatures.

Fairy Tales have always stood apart from other forms of story telling. Up until the 19th and 20th centuries the audience was adults as much as it was children. Come this period, the focus shifted to solely children. Beauty and the Beast, as an example, had its origins in the adult side of the audience. It’s a redacted version that we’ve come to adore since it was first done in 1756.

Hans Christian Andersen began writing Fairy Tales in 1835. Being Danish there was great difficulty capturing his humour and the quality of his story telling in the translations. Stories that are now favourites, (Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Tinderbox) were initially met with poor sales. The stories are now, of course, most well known as being part of the Disney franchise and another generation are currently being raised on them.

It pays to note that Andersen’s Fairy Tales weren’t born wholly out of love for all things good. There were references to the unattainable women he’d fallen in love with (The Nightingale was an expression of love for one Jenny Lind, as one example) and the trials of a life without sex. He famously wrote in his journal, “Almighty God…Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!”.

Andersen’s The Little Mermaid ends with our beloved Mermaid being offered a knife in order to murder the prince, the very man she fell in love with and watched marry a princess.  Instead of killing him, she falls into the arms of sorrow and commits suicide. In the original Andersen tale she turns to foam and dies, but in his altered version, she becomes a Goddess of the air and awaits heaven. Either way, she’s dead. Not everyone finds the person or the thing they want most in life. Perhaps that’s Andersen’s lesson but nonetheless it’s far from the world of Disney and fairy tale endings, so to speak.

The folkloric tales were originally a spoken tradition that sometimes moved into the realm of dramatisation. In order to write them down Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the Brothers Grimm) had to make large re-workings of the stories.

The Brothers are most famous for their stories that, to coin a phrase, have been ‘Disneyfied’. They are responsible for some of our most beloved fables such as Cinderella, Hansel and Grethel and Rapunzel.  

Much like Andersen’s The Little Mermaid there is a sinister side to Cinderella that isn’t acknowledged in the more popular Disney version. Cinderella’s two wicked sisters cut parts of their feet off (a big toe for one and a part of the heel for the other) in order to fit them into the slipper. Our lust driven perfection hunter of a prince is apparently easily deceived as he rides off with both in their turn. He’s stopped only by, what the sisters may consider, overly interested and invested birds that sing of the deception.

The tales of the Grimms (the aptitude of their name never ceases to make me smile) are both twisted and horrific. The beauty of this, despite their flaws with plot, is that they are in someway reflections of real life. It’s easy to turn to Tolstoy or Austen as hallmarks of stories about people and humanity, but the Grimms all too often seem to be forgotten in this. To stick with the Cinderella story, the wicked sisters’ cutting off their parts of their feet is a perfect meditation on actions driven by jealousy.

While Hansel and Grethel is an astounding portrayal of manipulation, trust and love. It also shows the fortitude of the bond and love of siblings. The morals of the Grimm’s tales no longer seem to be what brings them to front of readers minds, and for this reason, we as readers, and the Grimm brothers as writers are missing out.

All fairy tales are just as relevant and important today as they have ever been. One of their beauties, aside from the occasional transgression, is that they’ve remained true to from since they’ve been written down. Treated and altered, yes, but so far their fate hasn’t led them too far down the Marvel Superhero trail. These tales, in someways, have already stood the test of time and as long as publishers exist to continue printing and fans post them on the internet, they’ll continue to be told.

Violence, Give Me Violence

“Violence isn’t always evil. What’s evil is the infatuation with violence.”

– Jim Morrison

Violence is part of human nature, from conquering nations in the name of ideas, to the way animals are slaughtered for food, to the instinctual response to a perceived threat or retort to jealousy. Violence permeates the landscapes from literature to film to music but there was a point where art dealing with this part of the human condition served a purpose. Violence now, seems only to exist for it’s own sake. Entertainment. Is it entertaining? Of course it is, there isn’t much better than watching Rick Grimes blow the head off a zombie, or a black man get curb stomped in Malcolm X, is there?

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At the end of it all, Jim Morrison was right, and what seems to be the issue here is that violence for the sake of it is rife and deftly irritating. I’m not talking about the skill it takes to orchestrate an effective violent scene (V for Vendetta, The Lord Of The Rings) but that violence is any sort of entertainment is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself. Iago is famously the personification of jealousy, it’s his love for Desdemona that brings out the first usage of “the green eyed monster”, but it’s Othello that’s driven to perform the ultimate act of violence. The Moor attacks and kills his love out of a response to Iago’s meddling. Shakespeare uses this violence as a means to an end, in conjunction with Iago’s earlier tactics. Desdemona’s death is the result and it is also the means to fatally discredit the Moor.

Death and destruction serving a purpose isn’t confined to Shakespeare. It’s all across the literary landscape. Dante’s Divine Comedy uses some of the most horrific scenes of violence in any form of literature. The nine circles of hell are full of cruel and unusual punishments that involve sinners suffering rains of fire or being buried upside down with their feet set alight. The Schismatics are slashed by demons, the Flatters plunged into excrement, and the Heretics are forever punished in tombs of flame. Dante, with Virgil as his guide, walks through the horrors, each one a means to a final message: commit sin and be confined to your punishment for eternity.

Throughout the centuries we have depended on violence in our tales and our arts to steer us away from the dark sides of humanity. In theatre, in books and even since the dawn of film, violence has been a warning of the different, the strange, the ungodly. For as long as it has existed in art, it has been important and now, as the world seems to erupt into ever greater orgies of violence, it seems pointless. Utterly pointless. Generally speaking there seems to be no literary or cultural value left in violence. It has become a culture itself, a culture of bloodied porno’s, zombie films, far too many Resident Evil films and summer blockbusters with no premise other than to blow up sets.

We relish it, of course we do. Violence is delicious, devious, primal, the sadists and the masochists will agree with me. The pretty girls with their make-up and violent sexual fantasies.  Who doesn’t like to be bitten, scratched, pinned down? The guys with their for show muscles that revel in the sexual submission, keen, eager, drooling to dominate for all their worth. Violence is about power, power in relationships and increasingly, power play in the televised world. Nils Bjurman violently rapes Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, why? Because he can. Salander has been declared mentally incompetent by the state and Bjurman, as her guardian and manager of her funds, holds the power and attempts to strip Salander of the last she possesses.

Larsson’s use of rape in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is one of the most effective uses of violence for a literary purpose in a long time. There are of course an abundance of violent novels, Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Harris have both made a living off it. But their uses of violence are among the many that use it to entertain. Hannibal is terrifying, but Hannibal isn’t literary, he isn’t the symbols of Animal Farm, McCarthy’s nameless man and boy characters in The Road  experience the truly horrific side of human nature, but they too are no Tell Tale Heart.

Violence will never lose its joy and its ability to shock. But it is increasingly losing its literary value, as long as its sole purpose is to entertain, then it will continue to become irrelevant in our culture. Instead, its culture will continue to grow and it will prosper. We’ll lose something that has been an important part of the human condition and examining the human condition all to the name of cheap entertainment.

Viva La Theatre (a lament)

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Theatre has been entertaining the aristocratic, Royalty and the great unwashed often in the same room for centuries. Through the rise of court jesters to the Globe, we’ve relied on theatre to examine the human condition and also provide hours of, often less than wholesome, entertainment. As the centuries have worn on, however, theatre has become less important in a country that hates its artists and by a people that are glued to screens. We’ve let slip one of the greatest past times of human history and one of forms of art that’s faced religious persecution for the longest times.

One of the most gripping aspects of the theatre is the rawness that comes with a live performance. We know, of course, that there hundreds of hours that go into preparing and rehearsing for an opening night and the season of a show. But nothing portrays raw human emotion quite like a live performance. Titus Livius Patavinus (better known simply as “Livy”), author of the spectacular history of Rome and its people Ab Urbe Condita Libri,  wrote that Romans first experienced theatre in the fourth century BCE. It was performed by the ancient Italian people known as Etruscan

By the time 1642 had come around, theatre had swept through Greece and given rise to the Tragedies, Comedies and Drama. The time of Shakespeare had come and the man the left the world in almost as much mystery as he’d come in. 1642 however saw a point where the English theatre came to a grinding halt as the Puritans screamed sin and the devil and attempted to force it out of England. Much to their dismay, I’m sure, it made an explosive return when Charles II returned to the throne. Charles, like the Puritan induced smothering, didn’t last long and he died after an epileptic fit on February 2nd 1685. (His almost last words to his brother James were, “be well to Portsmouth and let not poor Nelly starve to death.” Important, I suppose, not to spite the mistresses even in death.)

As evidently thrilling as the theatre’s coming of age story is, there is much more to it than the long history, especially in relation to what we see on stage now. Arguably, a Marilyn Manson show is as much theatre (in the broadest sense of the term) as it is rock concert. Manson has been picketed and protested against by churches across the America. Religious fascism in stage performances is by no means a new conception.  Bishop Jeremy Collier (who also happens to have held the title of theatre critic) who published A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (March 1698). Was, among other non theatre attendees, convinced that immoral actions on stage, caused immoral audiences.

For centuries theatre has been dealing with all of the sides of life that are inherently ‘evil’. Whether they be lust and betrayal or the controversy of Aestheticism, plays (whether Wilde agreed or not) have been examining and continue to examine human nature and morality. They, much like every other form of art have also been protested by the religious those that have joined the ranks of the sin screaming puritans are none other than the media friendly and excessively irritating West Borough Baptist Church.

To think if something is so much protested, then it must be doing something quite right. Theatre as we’ve seen over the centuries has, and will continue to, challenge everything we’ve perceived about morality and humanity. Given that it was much more powerful in its day, so to speak, theatre has taken a backseat to our beloved TV entertainment and now is almost the preserve of the cultured.

Which is wholly unfortunate when one considers that across both the Western and Eastern worlds it has provided entertainment and social commentary for literally all types of people. In Shakespeare’s day, plays such as Hamlet would run almost four hours and peasants would pay 1 penny to stand the plays duration. Theatre has not only been an exposure of the human evil, but much in the same way entertainment does now, it humanised fears and realities. Plague masks and in fact, plays about the plague humanised and even turned such things into comedy.

Theatre is by no means dead, but it seems, despite its long history, it is being lost incrementally and in a world of free entertainment, its hardly surprising. We’re passing over live performances for streaming TV shows and movies, and hours on a couch. Theatre is a victim to the environment as much as it is of technology. It has always been expensive, when admission was a penny it was still the equivalent of two days work. Now admission prices are out of reach for most people and so, naturally, it loses out to freer, cheaper entertainment.