All writers that I know of have a pile, physical or digital, of abandoned, unedited manuscripts loitering around, taunting them with reminders of their failures. I’ve said this before and, you guessed it, I’ll say it again, writing might not be up there with hacking at the coal face deep underground day after day, but it’s still hard work.
And fraught with failure.
I’ve been looking through some of those abandoned manuscripts recently. Novels that I had such high hopes for initially but then left them, betrayed them for another. And it does feel a little like a betrayal. It’s not that the abandoned work failed to live up to expectations, more that I failed to give it the care and attention it needed. And so I moved on to other
Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to post excerpts from some of these abandoned works. Who knows, it might even spur me to pick them up again and finish them.
This week’s is a Victorian werewolf novel. Vampires get all the attention, but werewolves are like the dotty old aunt who gets trotted out in public once in a while but is mostly hidden away in a back room for fear of embarrassing everyone. So I thought, why not try my hand at writing one?
This is the first chapter, unedited, in all it’s rough, first draft glory.
Many remarkable, wonderful, frightening and strange events happen daily in the city of London. Some of them go unnoticed, occurring behind closed doors or even out in the open to be witnessed by all, but missed by the city’s inhabitants as they rush to their next appointment, or important piece of business in the West End. Perhaps they come to light later that day, or the following morning, and the police may become involved, or a story may be conjured for the daily newspapers, competing hotly for the attention of their public. Occasionally the event may begin its life behind closed doors, but explode out into public view, drawing a crowd and an officer of the law. Sometimes it may flower into life, only to die a quick, silent death before attaining any lasting importance or notoriety.
One such remarkable event happened upon the edge of the Thames on a chilly winter’s day towards the end of February and was witnessed by many people. This event then led on to many more remarkable happenings, some of them wonderful, many of them frightening and certainly almost all of them rather strange. But none of the people who gathered around, the chill of the winter’s air forgotten in their amazement at what they saw, would witness the following events. Only one man who saw the young lady he would later name Eve came to be at centre of the strange, horrifying happenings detailed in this narrative.
By the time Henry Palmer inadvertently arrived upon the scene a considerable crowd had already congregated, and it was the sight of so many people gathered together that caused the cab driver to rein in his horse and draw to a halt. Henry had been reading the Pall Mall Gazette, its article on child abduction for the sex trade. The newspaper’s editor, W T Stead, had been campaigning for a change in the law, but in using shock tactics to draw attention to his crusade it very much appeared as though he would end up in jail very soon. Upon realising that his carriage had slowed to a halt Henry looked up, and shouted to his driver.
“What’s the hold up?”
“Don’t rightly know, sir,” came the reply, and then only a moment later Henry heard the driver whistle and say, “Blimey, guv’nor, you ought to take a look out your window.”
Henry shuffled across his seat, laying his newspaper down, and peered at the crowd. They seemed to be in a great state of excitement, gathered around a central point of fascination. But Henry could see nothing other than their backs as they shuffled and backpedalled, moving as one along the Thames mud bank. His interest piqued Henry opened his door and stepped down onto the roadside. He walked close to the edge of the pavement, a small wall separating him from the mud that led down to the murky Thames. The crowd was silent, but for the rustle of clothing and squelch of mud as they walked slowly towards him. Men, ladies and children all congregated together, intent on the object of their curiosity.
Henry was on the point of turning and climbing back into his cab when the crowd parted slightly, and he had his first glimpse of the young, naked woman in their midst. Her pale skin was accentuated by her long, dark hair and the mud splattered across her slim torso and arms and legs. Although he only had a momentary glimpse before the crowd closed around her once again Henry’s breath caught in his chest and his stomach tightened. Despite the mud and her pale skin turning blue with cold it was obvious to him that she was beautiful and, looking back on that first day, he knew he was attracted to her like no other.
Henry reached back into the cab and picked up his walking stick. He had no need of it, other than as a style accessory. Shaped from Canadian oak, with a Latin inscription carved into it and a gold head, he had not been able to resist the sales man’s patter or its deliciously solid feel in its West End home. On first walking out with it he had felt quite self conscious and regretted his extravagance, hut the cane soon grew to be a part of him, and like an amputee he felt its insistent absence on those days he inadvertently left the house without it. As he picked it up now and stepped over the low wall into the wet mud, his Saville Row shoes surely about to be irrevocably ruined, he had no conscious thought of having collected it. And its potential for violence was even further from his mind.
Henry stepped carefully through the slick mud, his shoes slipping out from under him he used his stick to keep his balance. After only a couple of paces he could feel the filthy water seeping through his socks. The crowd of spectators moved slowly towards him, still intent on the spectacle at its centre. Henry waved his stick, and shouted, “Move aside, come on now, move aside!”
No one paid any attention, the object of their fascination drawing all of their faculties inward. They were like deaf, blind people, unaware of the world around them.
“I’m a doctor,” Henry shouted. “You must let me through!”
Now the crowd had reached close to him, and he was presented with the enormous rear of a fine lady in her West End clothes, ruined forever by the stinking, filthy mud of the Thames. Resisting the urge to give her a good thwack across the behind with his cane, (he could see the headlines in the newspapers tomorrow – Respectable Doctor Assaults Lady) he instead pushed his way between the bodies, muttering, “Let me through for God’s sake, I’m a doctor!”
Again Henry’s breath was snatched from his lungs as he came up to close to the young woman. Her hair was lank and dirty, hanging across her mud spattered face in filthy tendrils. Her eyes looked dark and unresponsive as she stared straight through the gaggle of spectators in front of her, as though she was completely blind to their existence, and her flesh appeared white and sickly. Had she been out here all night, in the freezing cold?
And yet despite all this Henry was captivated by her beauty, a lithe, cat like beauty that gripped his chest and squeezed tight. He pulled off his overcoat and draped it over her shoulders. She made no move, either to repel him or accept the covering. It simply hung limp across her shoulders and he pulled it closed across her chest.
“Let us through,” he said, as he gripped her by the elbows and began guiding her back to his waiting hansom. Some of the children began hurling mud pellets at them, and Henry swore as his shirt was hit by a splodge of thick, oozing mud. Letting go of the young woman for a moment he turned and brandished his stick at the lad, who ran away laughing. Henry took hold of his charge once more and, his feet slipping in the watery dirt, began his treacherous passage to dry, solid land.
“’Old it mister,” said the cabby. “You’re not bringing her in here, an that’s the God honest truth. I ain’t spendin’ the rest o’ my afternoon cleanin’ up her filth and mud.”
“For God’s sake, man!” Henry cried. “I’m paying my fare, aren’t I? Just let us on board.”
“No sir, not in her state she ain’t.” The driver shook his head for emphasis and took up the horse’s reigns as though about to depart that very instant.
“Wait!” Henry shouted. “I’ll pay you double, and I’ll pay you for the trouble of cleaning up your cab too. Just let us on board.”
The driver turned and looked disdainfully down on Henry and the girl. “Just keep her off the seats, all right?”
Henry pulled the woman into the cab and sat her on the floor. Already smeared patterns of mud had gathered on the wooden floor. Henry looked at her as the cab jolted into motion, and he put a hand on her shoulder to steady her. She did not respond, still gazing straight ahead as though she intent on something invisible to everyone else.
“What is your name?” Henry whispered.
A dull thump against the side window startled Henry enough that he let out a small yelp. A clod of dirt had been thrown at the hansom, and the driver swore, yelling that he would come down and take his whip to them if they threw anymore.
Henry turned his attention back to the mystery woman. Her breathing was so shallow He would have had trouble believing she was alive if she had not been sitting up. Her bare legs protruding from beneath Henry’s coat were like sticks, and her bony knees protruded painfully from her white skin.
“When did you last eat?” Henry said, his voice low, almost a whisper, so as not to frighten her. She continued staring ahead and said nothing.
Instinctively Henry squatted down in front of her. His doctor’s training was asserting itself, and the physician side of his brain was beginning to ask questions, needing to perform an examination. Slowly, fingers trembling ever so slightly, he raised his hands to her jaw and felt beneath the bone. Her glands felt normal, not swollen or inflamed, indicating that she had no fever from the fecal matter of the Thames mud. Taking even more care so as not to frighten her, he slid his index finger into her mouth, and another, until he could gently pry open her mouth. The light was too dim and he had no instruments to perform a proper examination, but he was able to run his finger along her teeth and around her gums. He was surprised at how well developed her canines were, but the gums were red and bleeding in places. He could smell stale, rotting meat on her breath.
He slid his fingers from her mouth and began running his fingertips gently over her scalp, searching for any bumps or lesions indicating a bump to the head. Gently Henry pulled back her eyelids and stared into her eyes. Her pupils were tiny and the whites of her eyes bloodshot. Ophthalmology was a fascinating branch of medicine, and Henry could only wish that her eyes would betray what she had seen and what she had experienced to drive her to wander naked on the mudflats of the Thames.
Henry looked at his fingers and saw blood mingled with the mud.
“Here we are mister!” the driver shouted. “An’ I’ll thank you to leave my cab now, and pay me decent money, like you promised.”
Henry pulled the woman up by her hands, and the jacket fell off her shoulders, once again revealing her mud splattered, naked body. He had to squeeze past her in the confined space as he bent down to retrieve the jacket, his head brushing past her thigh. He caught an animal scent about her, an unsettling smell of wildness.
Quickly he picked up the jacket and draped it over her shoulders once more. Taking her by the hand he guided her from the hansom and down the step onto the cobbled street.
“Here,” he said, handing the driver a note. “Take this and forget what you saw today.”
“Not bloody likely,” the driver grunted, snatching the money and hiding it away before spurring his horse into action and driving away. Henry watched him disappear down the street, the woman gazing after him too, although Henry was sure she could not, or did not, see him. Still clasping her hand in his he fished around in his pocket with his free hand for his keys. Opening his front door, the door that lead into his waiting area, he led the woman inside and into his consulting room. Quickly, almost furtively, he locked the front door, making sure the closed sign was displayed, and then closed the consulting room door too.
At last he had privacy.
Kneeling down before her he gently ran his fingers through her dank hair, back off her forehead. Then he noticed the blood, matted into her hairline. Leaning in close he inspected her carefully. Definitely mingled in with the clumps of mud were flecks and droplets of dried blood.
Cursing the poor light in the dreary consulting room he pulled the oil lamp from the wall and lit it, and held it up the woman’s face. Now that he examined her more closely he found what he had been unable to see in the poor light of the rocking hansom cab; more flecks and spatters of blood on her cheeks and in her nostrils, staining her teeth and her lips. He slipped the jacket from her shoulders and held the oil lamp close to her torso. Now he saw, partially hidden by the dried mud, bloodstains down her breasts and on her abdomen. He picked up a hand, listless and cold in his. More blood in the folds and creases of her skin and caked under her filthy fingernails.
Abruptly he stood up and stepped over to the closed door, his breathing now coming in short sharp gasps. He looked over his shoulder at the naked woman, staring ahead at her own internal fixed point in space. Was she reliving whatever nightmare she had witnessed, been a part of, that had driven her naked out onto the mudflats caked in somebody else’s blood? For the blood could not be her own as Henry had found not a single wound upon her.
“Who are you?” he whispered. “And what has happened to you?”
He ran some hot water, filling a tin bath with soapy water. He found some towels in the upstairs room and carried them down to the consulting room. For a long moment he had looked at the clothes in Hannah’s wardrobe, considering what he could take that she would not miss. Finally he had closed the door and settled for the towels and a dressing gown.
Henry carried the clothes into the room and shut the door. He grasped the naked girl by her thin shoulders and said, “Come on, stand up.”
Like a hypnotist’s victim she rose to her feet. He helped her step into the tin bath, and she gasped lightly at the hot water on her feet. Henry took a flannel and soaked it in the water. Using the soap and the flannel he began sponging down her hair and her face, rubbing at the clots of mud and blood until her cheeks were red and her hair dripping clean water. He used the flannel to wipe around the inside of her mouth, probing gently between her tongue and her gums, removing more blood and mud.
To all of this she submitted passively, the small gasp of shock as she stepped into the hot water the only sign of alertness she had shown. Henry washed her neck and shoulders, rivulets of dirty water now running down her flesh and dripping into the bath. He washed her arms, and spent some time cleaning her hands and her fingernails as best he could without a stiff brush to dig out the dirt. He squeezed out the flannel and then began washing her breasts and her abdomen, his breath catching in his chest. He turned her around and washed her to smooth curve of her back and the rounded buttocks, his hands now trembling almost uncontrollably as he fought with the desires in his head.
He soaped down her slim legs and then patted her dry with a towel, and wrapped the second towel around her torso. Helping her step out of the bath he sat her on the mattress and finished washing and drying her feet. He draped his wife’s dressing gown across her shoulders, and pulled her wet hair out from underneath it, letting it fall down her back. It lay in a tangled heap across her shoulder blades, still dirty. Henry had not washed her hair, or brushed it.
“Come with me,” he said, taking her by both arms and leading her out of the consulting room and up the stairs. They had a guest bedroom, although they rarely had guests now, and it was here he took his mysterious visitor. He laid her gently beneath the covers of the guest bed. She stared sightlessly up at the plaster ceiling, her eyes dark, the pupils wide and unresponsive.
Henry felt as though he was involved in a ritual, and that he was leaving an important part of the ritual out. Perhaps he should pray with, or over, her, or read her a story, or wish her a peaceful sleep. But this was not his daughter he was putting to bed, nor even his lover, but a stranger.
Henry spent the night sitting up in his bedroom, alternately attempting to read, or gazing at the photograph of his family, a studio portrait of Hannah and their daughter Rachel. Three more nights and they were due to return from visiting relatives in the country. Three more nights to decide how to deal with his surprise guest.
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