This story is by Laura Eiras and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He watched from the shadows.
The ragged girl with a basketful of flowers waited outside the Opera House. The ornate doors flew open, and the Quality swept out. She approached a couple paused nearby, smiled, and offered a posy of violets to the handsome gent. “Flowers fer yer Lady?” she asked hopefully. “Only a ha’penny a bunch.”
He turned to his companion and cocked his head toward the bedraggled figure in a wordless question.
The lady smiled and nodded. “Go ahead. The poor thing looks like she needs it.”
He took the nosegay and gave it to his companion with a small bow. Pulling a coin from his waistcoat pocket, he dropped it into the girl’s hand.
Her muttered ‘Thank’ee Sir’ and quick bob went unnoticed by the couple whose carriage had arrived. They’d already forgotten about her.
The poisoning began. “You thought she was different. See, she’s just like the rest, a whore at heart.” The watcher shook his head—no that can’t be. The insinuations continued. “Did you notice the special smile she gave the gent or the way her gaze lingered where it shouldn’t? That was your smile.” Swayed, he nodded his head—that was right, it did belong to him. He frowned—how dare she give it to anyone else!
The carriage pulled away. Only then did the girl unfurl her fingers to peek at the coin she clutched. She caught her breath, surprised by the glint of silver. A shilling, worth more than her whole basket of posies!
Her hand snapped shut. She looked furtively to either side. No one had noticed. She stuck her hand through the slit in her dress and dropped the coin into her pocket. Selling the rest would repay the flower man. She had a new spring in her step as she continued to offer her posies with a smile to the departing Swells.
He wanted to run out—those smiles were his, even if she’d forgotten. “Wait, now’s not the time. When she’s alone”—a suggestive picture surfaced—“we’ll remind her”—phantom fingers stroked, tempted, corrupted. “Oh yes”—hips thrust forward, savoring the spike of visceral desire—“we’ll make sure, she won’t forget again.” Seduced by tainted pleasure, it didn’t occur to him to question the vision.
Only a single posy remained. The Quality had gone home, deserting Covent Garden for their mansions. Time to go.
She was leaving. Soon—he smiled, flushed with anticipation. He crept forward on silent feet following the faint scent of violets wafting from her basket.
Dusk had fallen; a cold mist filled the street. She shivered and pulled her threadbare coat tight in a fruitless effort to ward off the damp chill. The few street lamps were oases of golden light in a sea of darkness. The full moon shone overhead, imparting an eerie glow to the fog that did nothing to light her way.
Enveloping fog swirled, by turns revealing then concealing the route. She scurried from one pool of light to another, gaze flicking nervously from side to side. Where was everyone? The last person she’d seen was the lamplighter making his rounds.
He moved closer . . . stalking . . . herding.
Were those footsteps behind her? She whirled, eyes straining to pierce the fog and listened intently. No one was there. Still, the hair on the back of her neck prickled and she took another path, walking faster.
He giggled softly, relishing the way she scurried. Knowing some atavistic part of her sensed he was there. He absently caressed the ivory hilt of his knife, enjoying the smooth feel under his fingers. It rarely left his grasp.
This street was narrower, darker. The gleam of the lone street lamp ahead promised safety.
He’d stolen it from the house of a Nabob, a forgotten prize in a case. Fashioned in the shape of a giant ivory tooth, the tip needle-sharp, the knife called out to be handled. Take me .Fascinated, he crept forward to open the case and grasp the pale hilt, strangely warm and vital in his hand. Test me. He touched the tip, drawing a single drop of blood. The tooth pulsed, absorbed the life essence and what he’d freed flowed inside and took up residence. The parasite went largely unnoticed as it began the slow, insidious corruption of his soul.
She stood under the lamp, shivering in the pool of light, her eyes darting around wildly as she tried to see something, anything through the swirling fog.
She should be afraid, the little whore. He’d seen the glint of silver. He knew what it meant. She was on her way to meet her paramour. The one she’d given his smile to; the one who’d given her the coin.
She attempted to speak, but her voice wouldn’t cooperate. After swallowing several times, she tried again. “Who . . . who’s there?” she finally forced out.
He was torn. Darkness was his element; terror and pain both weapon and reward. But part of him wanted to see every exquisite detail as it appeared on her lying face. He stilled and looked up; the fog was dissipating, revealing the full moon. Perfect! It was time to end this charade.
Footsteps clattered on the cobblestones behind her. She whirled, her heart pounding, then relaxed, it was only Billy. “Eh Billy”—she laughed nervously—“ye gives me a fright ye do. Wot ye doin’ sculkin’ i’ th’ night? Followin’ me again are ye?”
Silly Billy was the butt of everyone’s joke, but too simple to know it. He’d been sweet on her for as long as she could remember, her faithful shadow, always there in the background. He was a pest, but a useful one, bringing her the odd present—sweet buns he’d filched or pretty ribbons for her hair. All he’d ever wanted in return was a smile. He said he loved hers.
“‘Ello Lizzy.” Billy smiled and walked closer, hand in his pocket.
Lizzy edged away. It was just Billy, but he was making her uneasy. Something was . . . off. His smile was colder, his gaze a bit too knowing. She took another step back. He had his hand in his pocket again. Was he fingering that strange knife he’d found a week ago? He’d been different ever since. She’d seen him fondling the nasty thing when he thought no one was looking.
Silly Billy didn’t fit him anymore. Perhaps it was the new confidence in his walk or the way he stood straighter and taller.
“Lizzy,” he said again.
“I gots a present fer ye love.”
She relaxed a bit at the familiar words. Billy always said that, right before he pulled a present from his pocket. What would it be this time? She smiled in anticipation.
His face lit up. “Tha’s m’girl, ye gave me smile back.” His eyes glittered with feverish excitement. “I’ll be keepin’ i’ this time.” And then he glowered. “Ye won’t be givin’ i’ away again.”
Her smile thinned, and she lifted her chin. “Billy, why ye tryin’ t’ scare me? Stop wit’ tha’ tomfoolery. I wants me present now!”
“’Member,” he chided in mock apology, “ye asked fer it. I’m only givin’ ye wot ye wonted, wot ye deserve.”
He slowly pulled it out of his pocket, savoring the moment. The ivory knife slipped easily from concealment as if it were eager to be exposed. He held it out in front of him.
Lizzy’s eyes widened, and her mouth opened, but the only sound that emerged was a squeak.
He slunk forward, ready for the chase. It was time.
She stared, mesmerized by the tooth-like knife in Billy’s hand. It seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Why wasn’t she running? She had to run. He couldn’t chase her if she didn’t run.
“Lizzy,” he whispered, caressing her face with the outer curve of the knife.
She nodded stiffly, her muscles near frozen with terror.
She spun, dropping her basket and ran.
Yes, this was what he needed. The chase! She darted into an alley. He let her get far enough ahead to think she could escape. Oh, the delicious terror. Soon, the consummation.
She stopped, her way blocked, and whirled. Billy stalked forward, wrapped his arm around Lizzy and pressed her close. She felt his excitement, stared into cruel, leering eyes.
No, this wasn’t Silly Billy, the sweet, simple boy who’d brought her presents. That boy was gone, transformed into this . . . fiend.
The ivory knife plunged down, the sharp tooth piercing her chest. Strangely, it didn’t hurt at first, slipping in gently in a horrible parody of love. Terrified ecstasy transfixed her being as it thrust deep, then terrible pain as it consumed her soul. Finally, Lizzy’s throat unlocked, and her horrified scream rang out.
The dreadful sound ended, Lizzy’s body crumpled to the ground. Billy’s eyes cleared. “Lizzy?” He screamed, “Lizzy!”
Billy’s corruption completed, the demon-blade pulsed, and consumed him, body and soul.
Replete, the demon-blade fell to the ground and baited its trap. Take me. . . .