The newspapers were all calling it ‘Spring-heeled Jack’. Newspapers will do anything to increase their trade. Of course it was only a man or, quite possibly, an unrelated series of different men (if indeed it existed at all). The only thing known for certain was that someone was attacking lone individuals on the night-bound streets of London.
As a newly-minted Police Constable of the London Metropolitan Police I was assigned to Chief Inspector William Rotherhithe’s team tasked with apprehending the criminal (or criminals) responsible for these attacks.
For weeks our investigations proved fruitless, nonetheless we had a rota of men scattered about the Metropolitan area disguised as various drunks, lurkers and other unsavoury types, but it was to no avail.
So it was one chilly night I found myself clothed in a filthy, second-hand suit, sprawled in a dank alley near the western outskirts of Whitechapel. It was close to 2a.m. and I had been on duty since 8 o’clock the previous evening. I was cold, weary and sick to death of the stench of the place. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, on this night or any of the previous twelve nights I found myself on alley duty.
I must have nodded off, I know not for how long, but I was jerked awake by the scream that rent the still night air. I leapt to my feet and rushed off in the direction from whence it came.
I dashed down the alley and around a corner to find a roughly-dressed, unconscious man lying up against a cracked fence and a shadowy figure crouched over the body of a woman.
“Halt sir!” I shouted.
The figure turned quickly and, before I could get a good look at it, bounded over the wall into the yard beyond. I followed him over, blowing my whistle as I went. The strange man, for man he must have been judging by the shape, was quick and nimble, but I feel I held my own against him for if ever he managed to evade me, it was but a moment’s careful deliberation to find myself upon his trail again.
Over walls and fences our chase ran, and once across the roof of a low, creaking shack. To my shame though I must admit that I did finally lose sight of my quarry. I had landed in the back yard of a raucous pub, a uniformed sergeant, drawn by my whistle and the commotion of our chase, was shining his lantern upon me.
“Here now! What’s all this racket then?”
I was in no mood to argue with him, I showed him my badge, “Constable Oliver Duncan, Metropolitan Police. I need your lantern,” I declared, grabbing said item from him.
“I don’t know where you think you are son, but…” Before he could finish, another scream echoed across the rooftops, close by this time, “Right with you son!” I ran off again, this time determined not to lose the villain.
It was in the side yard of a stable, there my lantern found the most hideous creature I had ever beheld. He was wearing a shirt and tweed waistcoat and kneeling over the body of a young woman. “Hold sir, I have you now!” I panted. The monster turned to look at me, his piebald face a gruesome patchwork of stitches with one baleful brown eye, the other a piercing blue. He opened his mouth to speak, but I never heard him.
Another beast, this my true opponent, fell from the sky in a truly inhuman leap. It landed upon the disfigured gentleman, knocking him to the ground, and leapt at me. The fiend’s eyes flashed red in the glare of my lantern as he collided with me and I knew no more.
Too late I realised my mistake, the scarred gentleman had been covering the young woman with his coat.
I awoke several hours later in an unfamiliar bed, my face and chest had been expertly bandaged. A butler was just entering the room, I tried to speak but only managed a croak. He stepped back out of the door and called to someone I could not see.
“He’s awake sir.”
The scarred gentleman had to duck as he entered the room, “Thank you Chesterfield, that will be all for tonight.” His voice was deep and rich and he spoke with a Swiss accent. I tried to sit up but the pain in my chest was intense and I still could not speak. He held a glass of water to my lips. “Your face should heal in no time, but your ribs will need some looking after for a few weeks.”
“The girl?” I asked hoarsely.
“She will be fine, merely a shock to her nerves; the sergeant who followed close behind you saw to it that she was looked after, but I am afraid your assailant escaped in the confusion.”
“I am dreadfully sorry sir, I was mistaken as to your intentions back at the stable, please forgive me.” I reddened at the thought of my rash judgment.
“Please, do not mention it Constable Duncan,” he must have noticed my surprised expression, “your badge was in your coat, I took the liberty of verifying your identity. You are not expected back at the station for a few days, I recommend you take the opportunity to rest.”
“I am in your debt, sir… Pardon me, I do not even know your name.”
“It is Frankenstein,” he replied, “Adam Frankenstein.”
Upon returning home there was a parcel waiting for me. Unwrapping the brown paper I found a large mahogany box, the stain worn and polished with age. The lid was unmarked save for an inlaid oval of silver containing a strange symbol of a tall, weathered stone, like an old druid monolith. Inside the box was lined with faded red velvet; there were a pair of odd-looking pistols, a waxed cardboard box and a note.
The pistols were made in the current style in that they took cartridges, rather than the cap and ball I had used in the army, but they were obviously the work of craftsmen not often seen in these times. The frames were made of blued metal decorated with ornate traceries that had a subtle hint of the arcane, but the cylinders were smooth, polished steel. The grips were made of a darkly-stained wood and marked in silver, one side with a seal identical to the one on the box lid, the other a somewhat curved, five-pointed star with what appeared to be a tiny flame in its center.
The note read:
If you are reading this you are no doubt experiencing some unusual events. If all goes well you shall soon be involved in something truly remarkable. Be brave and you will do fine. I’m sorry I cannot say more, just know this:
I am very proud of you.
The bottom of the page was stamped in red ink with that same stone pictograph.
The box contained a dozen cartridges. The bullets had star-shaped grooves cut into the tips which had then been capped with silver and filed to a sharp point. They were coated with an oily substance that smelled of oak and something which I could not identify.
Just what had I stumbled upon, and how could my grandfather be involved in it? I had too many questions yet no answers were forthcoming.
I was kept on light duty for the next week. Sadly I was unable to provide any definitive details regarding the identity of my attacker and thus could bring us no closer to his apprehension. If not for the sake of my injuries, I think Inspector Rotherhithe would have made known his displeasure with my performance.
The box I left hidden at the back of my wardrobe, I was not comfortable going armed about the city.
Several nights later the creature struck again. Police Constable Aaron Caruthers was on alley duty. Much like myself he found the beast and gave chase, but, unfortunately, he was alone when he cornered it.
The next morning the headline was shouted from every street corner: “Spring-heeled Jack Kills Police Constable!” Sore ribs be damned, this injustice would not be countenanced.
The next night I wore my cheap suit-coat over my old army holster; it wasn’t a perfect fit for the pistol, but it would work well enough until I could have a proper one made.
I knew this “Spring-heeled Jack” seemed to prefer Whitechapel so that is where I kept my vigil, knowing full well that it was under the jurisdiction of the City Police rather than my own. Four nights I waited with nothing to show for it. I was due back on full duty soon and was beginning to worry. The Metropolitan Police would not approve of an armed constable in plain clothes.
On the fifth night it struck again. It was several hours before dawn, I heard a low shout and a crash from the alley opposite mine. When I arrived seconds later I found the thing creeping menacingly up on an innocent local laborer. Finally I had a good look at it.
Whatever it may have been, “Spring-heeled Jack” was certainly not human. It had black, leathery skin showing small patches and tufts of a short, wiry fur. It’s limbs were long and slender, though strong leaping muscles shone underneath, and it had a thick chest. The foul thing’s head was small and somewhat pointed with that same short, bristle-like hair running down the back of its neck. On it’s hands were foul-looking, four-inch-long claws that gleamed like ivory, but of the deepest black.
I drew the heavy pistol and aimed it at the creature. I cocked the hammer, the sound a loud snap in the still morning. The beast’s head twitched slightly as I pulled the trigger. It leapt out of the way just in time. The bullet, narrowly missing its head, smacked into the wooden fence. There was a white flash and the sharp smell of phosphorus and the plank caught fire.
“See to that fire, sir!” I shouted as I ran after the fleeing creature. This time I was determined not to lose the fiend, nor would I allow it to harm another living soul.
The creature sprang onto the rooftop and bounded away. I ducked through a side alley to catch up. As I emerged into a narrow, trash-strewn street the beast leapt over my head, landing on an angled roof above a shuttered shop-front. It turned its malevolent glare on me, eyes reflecting the light like an animal’s.
I aimed and fired. This time it wasn’t quick enough and my shot caught it in the thigh. The squeal that issued from the beast’s black lips chilled my blood. Never before had I heard such a hideous, hate-filled howl.
Gripping its injured leg, it climbed up the roof and disappeared over the other side. I could hear shouts and whistles coming nearer, my shots having drawn the attention of the City Police. I knew I had to act quickly now. It took me but a few moments to dash around in hopes of finally catching the fiend.
I found myself in an alley squeezed between the two-storey shops on one side and a much taller warehouse on the other, but there was no sign of my quarry.
Two well-dressed gentlemen appeared at the far end of the alley. The older of the two was wearing an expensive grey suit, dark vest and derby while the younger was dressed in a dark brown checked suit. It was obvious they had been running.
“You there!” the older gentleman shouted, but before I could answer, the creature landed behind me with a crash. It charged as I turned and fired, missing as it drove past me. There was a bright flash as my bullet impacted a stone wall, luckily nothing caught fire. I was slammed against the wall as the beast barreled by, I felt the crunch of bones fractured against solid stone and bright sparks danced before my eyes.
The gentlemen at the far end of the alley had little time to react, in a matter of heartbeats the beast was upon them. It sent the older gentleman sprawling into a garbage tip and then began to tear into the young man with its fiercely-clawed hands. The screams of fear and anger were truly terrifying.
I staggered upright, my left arm a useless wreck, hoping my right would be steady enough. I took careful aim and shouted inarticulately at the brute, somehow I managed to attract its attention. I pulled the trigger.
My shot flew straight and true, catching the creature square in the chest. The monster was blasted off of the young constable (for police I believed them to be). As it howled in pain I noticed an odd, reddish luminosity growing within its mouth and the hole in its chest and then the foul thing burst into flame. Whatever this Spring-heeled Jack had been crumpled into a shapeless, burning mass in a back alley somewhere in Whitechapel.
It was at that moment the uniformed police arrived. I was going to have a hard time explaining what a Metropolitan Police officer was doing in plainclothes outside his jurisdiction, armed with an odd, arcane weapon, chasing monsters. It was perhaps to my benefit then that, at that moment, I collapsed onto the worn paving stones of the alley giving myself over to blissful unconsciousness.
When I awoke several hours later I was, once again, lying in a bed with Adam Frankenstein leaning worriedly over me. He grinned as, blearily, I opened my eyes.
“Ah, Constable Duncan, I’m very glad to find you among the living once again.” His smile was something to behold. The scars on his face were a grisly, shifting street-map, but the warmth in his mismatched eyes was genuine.
I smiled back at him as best I could, and promptly blacked out again.
I drifted in and out of consciousness for several days. When I finally came to my senses again I found I was in hospital. Throughout my recovery I had no visitors, nor did I have any word from the Metropolitan Police. I resigned myself to the fact that my employment with them was almost certainly at an end, but I had managed to stop that beast from causing any further harm. In that, at least, I could be proud.
When I was well enough, I put on my best suit and made my way to Great Scotland Yard to face the consequences of my actions. No one spoke a word to me as I entered, but there was many a furtive glance in my direction. I walked up to the desk sergeant.
“Rotherhithe wants to speak to you,” he said in place of his usual greeting. This was going to be worse than I thought.
The Chief Inspector was waiting in his office. He looked up as I entered, “Duncan. Well. You’re time with the Metropolitan Police is at an end. And I must say I do not approve of your reckless methods.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied quietly, sinking under the dread of having to go back to the life my father meant for me.
“I do this against my will, and believe me I have made it known as such. If were up to me I ’d see you run out of my city, but this comes down from on high. From henceforth you are transferred to H Division in Whitechapel. Please remove yourself from my station… And Duncan?”
“Do not think this means your disregard for police jurisdiction will be tolerated here. If I find you carrying on, as you have done, within the boundaries of the Greater London Area I will bring every power at my disposal to bear against you. You will have no leniency from me. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly, sir.” He grunted once and that was it. I turned and silently left the station that had been my only real home these last few years.
The Whitechapel stationhouse was abuzz with activity: a uniformed constable was fruitlessly trying to calm a drunken woman shouting in what may have been French; a large, ruddy faced man in his shirtsleeves was sitting forlornly on a bench nearby, holding his bruised face; someone was banging a tin mug against the holding cell bars. It was chaos.
I presented myself to the desk sergeant. “Ah yes, we’ve been expecting you. I have to tell you, we’re all grateful here for how you saved the inspector’s son.”
“I beg your pardon?” I asked somewhat confused and overwhelmed.
“Inspector Butler,” he gestured at a gentleman just leaving the station. It was the older of the two officers from the alley that night. He nodded at me as he walked out the door.
“You saved his son from that drunken madman a few weeks ago,” here the sergeant winked almost imperceptibly. As he reached under his desk he shouted, “Andy! Get that mug away from Mr. Delaney! How many times have you been told?!” He turned to me again, “Sorry about that. Here you go.” He handed me a sealed envelope and then, shaking his head with a sigh, went to help with Mr. Delaney’s impromptu musical performance.
My hands shook as I opened the envelope. Inside was an off-white business card, blank save for the now-familiar symbol of a single, standing stone in red ink. It also contained my new badge. There, inscribed in neat handwriting were the words: Detective Constable Oliver Duncan.