May 23, 2012
kosmo - See all 770 of my articles
The winner of this year’s fiction contest is Elizabeth West. We didn’t draw quite as many entries as we hoped. In fact, the inaugural context drew exactly one entry. It’s a fine story, though, and definitely championship worthy.
The giveaway of a $5 Amazon gift card for a random voter had been changed instead to a random commenter. Tell Elizabeth what you liked about her story in the comments section below and be eligible to win! All comments left by midnight Central on May 25 are eligible (excluding writers for The Soap Boxers and their immediate families).
Want to read more of Elizabeth’s work? Visit her blog, Graphomaniac.
By Elizabeth West
Photo courtesy Jill Barlow photography
Divine work is the most challenging of all employment. Those who have followed my travails in the papers will wonder for decades, perhaps, why it was necessary. My family, a mother who in her extremity of befuddlement will not understand this and the politically-extremist brother who thinks I waste my education in a servile position, and with whom I have not spoken in several years, deserves the truth at least. This letter of explanation prior to my suicide will serve.
It is lately the hottest part of the summer, and the events of which I speak took place this past winter. The Thames reeks quite heavily, as is normal this time of year, with the effluvia of the city’s profligate denizens. Soon it will trouble me no more.
When one visits the poor unfortunates of the slums of our great city, one must take care not encourage their dreams. So many of them live hopeless lives, caught in the web of poverty, living cheek by jowl with the rats, the filth in the gutters, in the meanest of conditions. To give them false hope of deliverance is to be cruel.
The most unfortunate are the street prostitutes, those shabby and unkempt women who haunt the public houses and the streets outside the theaters, willing to bed strangers for tuppence for a meal and perhaps a night’s lodging. I speak with them now and again but pity chokes my throat and sometimes I cannot think of words. A woman’s lot is an unhappy one. If they, like men, were permitted to enter a decent skilled profession, there would be no grubbing on the street, no ruffian children fending for themselves, no pickpocketing or stumbling bleary-eyed gaze of absinthe and ale as they brush their switching skirts against you. I am proud to say I never once had my way with them. Why stoop to the level of those who use them?
I preferred to dispatch them quickly. It was the kindest way.
Once they were liberated, one might argue it was tremendous and shocking folly to slash and hack, to extract the intestines and sling them over the shoulder, to remove certain parts and spirit them away. I believe some think I am a perversion of nature, but such thoughts are uncharitable. I merely wished to help them. Once they find their way to the streets, there remains little hope of rehabilitation.
I thought long and hard for many months on how best to aid them before taking the initiative. Were I not to do this and draw Divine attention to it with horrific mutilation, some poor soul would have to continue on in her wretched existence, one from which only I, working for the Almighty, can free her.
I wrote several notes to the police in varying dialects and colloquial language in hopes of redirecting their investigation elsewhere. The night served as my disguise and I had no need of masks or leather aprons, or any cloak or concealment, but mention was made of a deerstalker hat, which mine greatly resembles. In Greater London alone there may be hundreds of these hats. I took a risk wearing it in the area, but one must look one’s best at all times. Winter kindly provided its excuse. In the current climate, a chapeau designed for colder weather would have appeared most unusual.
And they say I have some skill with the knife. The police and public search for a rogue doctor or a mad butcher, not an ordinary, meek and retiring underchef.
As to keeping clean, their life’s blood rarely soiled my raiment. I needed to render them compliant immediately and discovered that a quick hand about the throat served to bring unconsciousness swiftly. The body could then be placed gently upon the cobblestones and my work could commence. They rarely fought; in hopes of their meager restitution, their hands were full of skirt and petticoat as they exposed their purses and they had no way to defend themselves.
I made the cuts from the opposite side and then watched the blood drain. The knife I use is one I favor from the kitchen and my employer will not miss it. There is a small nick on the blade; as a renowned chef with a penchant for perfection, he has consigned it to the preparatory area where I work. I am content to use it for the veal and for other things as well.
Once a feral dog, one of many in the teeming city, approached the crimson flow, but I chased it away. How undignified it would be to have one’s blood licked up by such a mongrel. If I could have caught it, I would have liberated it also.
When I left a body to cool, walking silently and furtively away, I felt the exhilarated ecstasy that the preacher exhorts from the pulpit each Sabbath. The pieces I secreted in my lined pocket stayed hidden in my little room until I could not stand the stench, then were discarded. In that state no one could know what they were and I knew not what became of them. My heart pounded and my digits trembled; the blood rushed in my ears and I had to touch them with bare hands and feel their cool, slippery springiness not unlike the offal I prepare for the hungry bourgeoisie each day.
Once I dared to taste; a shock not unlike the shuffling of feet over a wool rug pierced my tongue and I could only surmise that punishment would follow. Therefore I did not do so again. Other, more intimate touches soon followed but did not produce any of the effects which we as youngsters were taught to expect from such congress with oneself. That is all I have ever experienced, I exhort you. The act of love is only to be shared between husband and wife. Thus the tragedy of those poor fallen women is increased.
I must make clear that the kidney sent to the police did not come from me; I can only surmise that my work inspired others. If so, I wish them well in their endeavors.
In church, devout head bowed and hands clasped peacefully in front of me, I gave up each memory of the choked gasp and hitching chest, the bubble and gurgle, to God as is His due. We must help and succor the poor and downtrodden, the preacher thunders each Sabbath, as Jesus Himself would not allow them to suffer in His presence.
I was virtuous; I was kind. I have always been healthful and not slothful. I like to think that I remained gracious, and my generosity will live on even if my identity remains unknown. I was proud but went before God with a humbled heart. I dared not lift my eyes up for His recognition but I hoped that my offerings would please Him.
But each night that I sought to release a soul into His glory, my anxiety grew. A night came when one soul was not enough; two were dispatched within a quarter of an hour and I hastened away before the police discovered my handiwork. It was the closest I came to being caught. Indeed, they ran right past me, and one inquired as to my presence on the dark street. I merely stated that I was on my way home from a friend’s and had heard a disturbance, helpfully pointing back toward the scene. The officer thanked me and passed on. I must admit, I whistled a bit as I walked away.
In reading my confession, as it may be called, you may wonder why I am choosing to end this now. In keeping with my new policy of honest admission, I say before God that my calling to help those less fortunate has become less about aiding them and more about expressing my own desires. I have failed Him greatly. Instead of quickly helping the last unfortunate, I followed her to her dwelling. Undisturbed and unobserved, I perpetrated a great deal of damage upon her person. In a frenzy, I skinned and dissected. I am ashamed to admit that I experienced gratification upon doing so.
It is nearly midnight. I have closed the window against the stench and my little room is close and dark. These memories have awakened nearly the same sensations as when they were new. I must resist a final enjoyment of them. It would not be proper.
Since I am no longer trustworthy, I must end this before my family is disgraced and my work sullied with lurid suppositions. In closing, I would like to request that when this letter is found, it not be turned over to the scandal-hungry press until any remaining members of my family can be notified, so that they may decide upon a suitable statement.
The rope is readied and I am also. I forgive myself.
I am of sound mind and body in this seventh month of the year of our Lord 1889. To my brother and mother I leave all my worldly possessions, to dispose of as they see fit. To my God, I say, your humble and obedient servant is coming home.
“Jack the Ripper”
From the London Times, July 30, 1889
In a tenement lodging at 1276 Wicket Way, on the outskirts of that district known as Whitechapel, one Mrs. Baker, the landlady of the establishment, on Sunday discovered the body of one of her lodgers hanging from a fixture in the ceiling of his dwelling when she went to collect the rent. Police arrived and determined the poor unfortunate had been deceased for a day at least. Onlookers report that due to the oppressive heat and the window being shut tightly, the removal of the corpse was most unpleasant.
It was observed by neighbors that the deceased had no apparent belongings save a bit of clothing and some cutlery. Police discovered a number of papers in the corpse’s pocket, which decomposition had rendered illegible. The man’s name was not found among their remnants and all objects present were consigned to the bin. Mrs. Baker told police he had registered under the name Jack Reaper.
Mrs. Baker has asked this paper to convey the fact that the room has been thoroughly cleaned and fumigated and may be had monthly for a reasonable sum.
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