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Dark Victorian: Risen
by Elizabeth Watasin
The narrow alleys of Whitechapel Market were busy; frightened animals were being driven underground to be slaughtered in basements, their fresh dung caking the street. In the stalls lining the small street, butchers were hanging all manner of raw, dark meat, the cuts and portions unidentifiable. They laid out tripe. Women with babies bartered loudly with the sellers.
“Ha ha! Road kill,” Jim said, twisting in Art’s hand to look at the mysterious meat of one stall. Art paused in her walk to take in the odd phrase.
“There’s a bobby! He’ll know where the deed was done,” Jim said, turning in her hand again. Art took a breath and set aside her question. Her lack of understanding of some of Jim’s queer words could be due to lost memory, she thought. She cut a path through a pack of running street boys and approached the policeman laconically talking to a fish fryer.
Minutes later she was standing among other spectators who’d come to gawk at the alley wall where the cat meat man had met his end. Some of the blood had been cleansed; otherwise there was nothing to look at but the bit of walk where Culver Drury skinned his cats.
Some young men jostled Art and she firmly deterred a sly hand entering the folds of her dress with the handle of her walking stick. The pickpocket smoothly withdrew with his accomplices.
“Such a loss!” Jim said loudly as he stared at the alley wall. “I can just imagine that innocent and poor man’s horrible end. And for no good reason!”
“I ’eartily disagree,” an old ragged woman said from her window behind them. She had a clear view of the alley. “Drury was a vicious li’l brute. Yew’ll find no tears shed for the likes of ’im.”
“Oh, come now.” Art turned so that Jim could look at the woman. “Does anyone deserve to have their meat kill them?”
“If you’d seen ’ow he did it you’d say same,” she said darkly. “They weren’t mere meat to ’im.”
“Then who spoke to him last,” Jim asked in seriousness. “Who was here when it happened?”
The woman made to answer when her head tilted back. Her eyelids fluttered. Then a toothless smile broke upon her lined face.
“Mary ’ad a little lamb,” she said pleasantly. “Fleece all white with snow. And ev’where that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go. I h’idn’t see anyone, sir.”
Art sensed something; a fleeting brush that passed like shadow between them and the woman. Though she still faced the window, she felt as if the shadow swung her around. Art shook her head to get her bearings.
“Thank you, madam. Art, a token for her help.”
Art placed a few coins in the old woman’s eager hand.
As they walked away, curious boys broke from the murder scene spectators and followed them.
“Something happened,” Art said to Jim.
“Good! You’ve your senses. Gin dimmed Billy’s. The woman back there had been mesmerized, and you felt a bit of the black spell still on her.”
“I felt turned around. Myself and my thoughts.”
“Think of how a bobby must have felt. Not sure why we didn’t get a whiff of necromancy. Must’ve gone poof with the second death of the cats.”
“You those Secret Inspectors?” a grinning boy next to Art suddenly asked. “You goin’ to catch the warlock raisin’ them killer animals?”
“No, we’re going to ask him to tea! Maybe he’ll bring back my dear beloved doggie!” Jim said.
“Nick Blackheart would’ve ’ad him by now! The Blackheart would’ve chopped ’is ’ead off! Whoosh!” said the ragged boy on the other side of Art. He cut the air with an imaginary sword.
“The old Nick is good, but we’re taking care of this one!” Jim said.
Art paused when they arrived at a crossway that branched into three other alleys. She looked down at the boys tolerantly as they ran around them and whooped.
“The Secret Men ’ave nothin’ on the Blackheart!” one boy scoffed.
“Blackheart, Blackheart, Blackheart!” they chanted. They laughed and ran.
“Ar! The Nick will always be more popular! Go watch some poor cow get pole axed, you little rascals!” Jim yelled after them.
“Where to now, Friend?” Art asked.
“The murdered teacher’s,” Jim sighed. “For we need to know what was resurrected that’s not an animal.”
Art sobered and scrutinized her surroundings. She saw nothing but the laundry lines of the poor who lived in the little alley. If she reached a main thoroughfare she might remember where Stepney Green was. She stepped beneath the dangling black stockings and wet shirts and followed her nose for the market.
“Friend, who is the Blackheart?” she asked.
Though Jim had no features Art felt he looked at her aghast.
“You don’t know?” he said incredulously.
“Perhaps I never read penny dreadfuls.”
“Nick Blackheart’s not a penny dreadful hero or villain. She’s real.”
“She?” Art said. The Blackheart was becoming more peculiar by the minute.
“The latest Nick is. I believe she’s the fifth. And very good at it too, been at it five years. But she’s not been seen for months. Any of this giving you a ring?”
“A ring?” Art said in bafflement. “No, Friend.”
“Fall made a mistake with your memories! It’s essential you know this! Father Christmas?”
“Yes,” Art said.
“Punch and Judy?”
“Arr! That Fall. I’ll give you the beginning. Never mind, I’ll give you the whole of it. Black arts in England had its time to grow. And be used foolishly. The first Nick Blackheart appeared around 1840, I believe, riding out to rid the countryside of supernatural muck gone amok. He became the monster killer. Was at it a good while and when he died his name and legacy was passed on; tricorne, mask, cloak, silver pistols and all. Dashing fellow. But the supernatural is not impressed by dashing. Nick after Nick came and each, in some horrifying fashion, went. And even with a Blackheart on duty it was not possible for every threat to be defeated. Thus it was when the fourth Blackheart perished and the plague of Devil Dogs nearly wiped out half the East End that Prince Albert decided evil must be harnessed in England’s service to fight evil. And so the Secret Commission was born.”
“If there’s no sixth Blackheart the fifth must still be alive.”
“Let’s hope so. She first appeared on that big black horse of hers when the Devil Dogs were about to overrun and devour all of London. Drove them back in the—ha ha!—nick of time. Road kill for everyone! The poor ate heartily that night.”
Art wasn’t amused. Jim’s very odd way of speaking seemed further evidence of her lack of memory and the realisation of how much she didn’t know disturbed her.
Jim continued, “While we agents were being created—and expiring faster than a Nick—the Blackheart rode on, dispatching horrors straightaway to hell. Truly an efficient woman. And dashing. I’ve never seen her myself. Would be nice when she returns, I’m due for a holiday.”
Art ceased walking.
Something near was giving off a sensation. She felt it like a faraway lamp seen in the dark, but one that burned blackness not light and bloomed tendrils of subtle stench. Yet while the sensation made her skin crawl, it felt as familiar as the electrified eldritch energy she had awoken in at the Secret Commission.
“Hm,” Jim murmured. “He’s here.”
Art moved swiftly under the laundry lines.
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About the Author:
Elizabeth Watasin is the acclaimed author of the Gothic steampunk series The Dark Victorian, The Elle Black Penny Dreads, and the creator/artist of the indie comics series Charm School, which was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. A twenty year veteran of animation and comics, her credits include thirteen feature films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Princess and the Frog, and writing for Disney Adventures magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her black cat named Draw, busy bringing readers uncanny heroines in shilling shockers, epic fantasy adventures, and paranormal detective tales.
Follow the news of her latest projects at A-Girl Studio.