To start the new year our first tale comes from the highly talented, David Owen.
David is a member of the Hampshire Police Male Voice Choir. He also plays the piano badly and supports the charity ‘Hearing Dogs’ as a volunteer, looking after assistance dogs when they are puppies and prior to their advanced training when they will eventually provide companionship and assistance for profoundly deaf people.
David has been writing poems and crime stories for many years mainly for self-enjoyment. He is a member of the Denmead Writers’ Group under the wizardry command of Carol Westron who seems to be able to inspire the whole group to excel themselves in their writing.
When David is not singing, bashing the ivories of walking dogs, he can be found at his holiday home in France in the Dordogne.
What follows is a short story which is a mixture science fiction and ghost fantasy called ‘Written Dimensions.'
Shadows of a Deadly Past
Constance hurried down Bucks Row. The fog was thicker than it had been when she had decided to return from the workhouse, where she had been helping to feed the inmates and tending to the sick.
As she strode on she pondered the attitude of her husband James. Whilst admiring her desire to get involved in ‘good works’, he was unsympathetic to what he regarded as the ne’er do wells that occupied these places and whose fate he thought was largely their own fault and no business of his or that of his wife.
Constance, on the other hand, would not be put off. She believed she had a Christian duty that fell upon her – and others of her class – to tend to the needs of those less fortunate than herself. She had been carrying out her present ministrations for about a year and during that time, James, who she regarded as the best and kindest of men, had never really understood the drive she felt to carry on with what she piously informed him was ‘Her work’.
The fog tended to deaden the sounds and gave a false impression of what was near to her or some distance away. She could smell the thickness of it and was aware of, but could not see, others somewhere around her as their softened tread grew louder and then faded. There was a chill in the air, which might have been real or imagined and she shuddered as she quickened her pace.
She felt no panic, in spite of the imploring that James had made to be careful. Oh, how he had pleaded with her to be so very, very, careful.
Had she not read of the dreadful murders? Did she not know that the very road she had to walk over – the one she was now on in fact – was the scene of that first dreadful assault when the poor, wretched Mary Nichols had met such a ghastly fate?
Suddenly she was startled by a cacophony as she turned the corner into Whitechapel Road, The public house called the Frying Pan cast a beam across the fog from its open doors and Constance stopped and took deep breaths as the raucous laughter jarred discordantly with the untutored thumping on the piano. The fog did that, gagged the sound until the unsuspecting passenger was just yards away from its source from whence it would hurl itself upon the ear, deafening for just an instant until it faded as distance was gained.
Constance walked on. She knew that at the next junction she would probably be able to find a hansom.
She was unable to tell when it was that she had become aware of the footsteps behind her. Somewhere vaguely in her subconscious she became cognisant of the padded percussion of an irregular beat on the cobbles. It had started as if it was the introduction of a musical overture, so quiet at first in anticipation of what was to come and then louder, yet garbled, indecipherable because of the fog. And just like a musical piece, its rhythm was irregular, thump, pat, thump pat.
And then she heard another noise. This time unmistakeable, the beat of a cane against the ground. The person was a cripple.
She quickened her pace, but in spite of his disability, the unseen and unseeable wayfarer who was her shadow, gained upon her. She started to run and the irregular sound behind her quickened. Thump, pat, thump, pat – faster, faster. Interspersed with the constant crack of a cane like the ticking of an over sprung clock - faster and faster. She was nearly there, she could hear the whinny of a horse, and then she saw it, the outline of a hansom with its fog lamps piercing the gloom.
She tripped on her skirt and strong hands prevented her from falling.
“Steady there miss,” Said the voice from behind. “You’ll come a right cropper if you keep going at that pace. Cor blimey, much as I could do to keep up with you with me gammy leg and all. Quite made me lose me breath it did, trying to match your speed, otherwise I would have called out.”
“What is it you want?” She called out nervously, but with a note of defiance in her voice.
“You dropped your purse back there miss. Been a bit off putting if you’d been unable to pay the cabbie, now wouldn’t it?” He said, holding out his hand to show the small, bulging bag.