Friday, September 23, 2011

Bring Us the Moon by Chris Castle

Bring Us the Moon by Chris Castle

Jack Trump walked through the misty harbour, watching the drunks and the whores slip through the shadows. London, 1920 and it was as if the nation was slipping back to some base, primal time. Even as he roamed deeper into the fog, he heard noises, some laced with pleasure, others seared with pain. 2 a.m. seemed a time when no-one carried a name and everything was defined by movement and breath. A sharp crack sliced through the air and someone, somewhere, sobbed. Jack walked on, dismissing ordinary crimes in search of a deeper, more powerful evil.
The killer had acted in a cycle, every two or so weeks, as if out of habit or routine. The police had dismissed each idea as much as the newspapers revelled in it. Each day the headlines reported each rumour as fact, each story as evidence. It had culminated today in an absurd concoction; a hand-drawn figure of a spectral soldier, stalking the nights to kill wrong doers and ne’er-do-wells. The restless soul was an Avenger of moral rights, acting on the hand-written notes of Queen Victoria herself. The masses applauded and cheered over their pint glasses and cigarettes.
Jack reached what he predicted to be the latest spot and saw the rough outline of a crowd. As he drew closer, he could feel the penny -- a supernatural, precious thing -- burn brightly in his pocket. It had been given to him on the crater of the First World War battlefields, by a man who knew something of the dark arts. He drew it out of his pocket and watched it simmer with white heat as he edged towards the mob. Whatever was killing in the streets of London was close by.
To his astonishment, Jack found a crowd of almost fifty, gathered and hunched as if a late-night horse race was somehow in the offing on the cobbles. All of them were throbbing with expectation, their voices almost melted together into something like a chant. He edged closer, half in fear and half in expectation. As he slipped into the throng he made out the words that drifted from their collective mouth:
Where is the moon? Bring us the moon!
On they went, swaying as if hypnotised, even as Jack looked left and right, searching for the result of their hushed prayers. Sure enough, a man emerged from the shadows and rose his hands to the crowd, silencing them immediately. He drew his arms down and looked around them, his face a mixture of ringmaster smirk and cold, dead glances.
“Who amongst us seeks justice?” He began, somehow distinguishing himself from the shroud of fog. “Who amongst us seeks entertainment?” His voice was low and persuasive; Jack had the idea this man could steal a pocket-watch and sell it back to the rightful owner without letting his cheeks flush once.
“Aye!” someone in the crowd hollered. Another joined in, until the mob was crying in unison, their blood-lust vocal and unashamed.
“Then, in these hard times, let us see something remarkable,” he went on, drawing another man from the shadows; the man was dirtied and pitiful, though there was something in his eyes, something that burned bright, that made Jack flinch.
“You all know him,” he whispered. Then his voice turned casual, almost goading. “Y’all know him!”
“The killer!” one of them almost panted. “The devil who went looking for the poor kiddies!” The voice tapered off, breathless. Jack noted it was not with horror but with something like exultation.
“That’s right! And who would see this creature downed?” He went on; his voice seemed to veer between accents, as if too many characters lay inside his head, desperate to climb out and have their turn. “Who would see this devil lay bare and be taken from these fine streets?” The crowd hollered on, almost frenzied.
“Bring us the moon! Where is the moon?” the crowd began to chant. The master of ceremonies looked up to the stars, away from them for a moment and up to the sky. Following his glance, Jack saw the last puff of cloud slip away to reveal a heavy, almost bursting moon.
“Behold!” the man cried and then nimbly stepped to one side, as another shadow rushed from the alleyway. As Jack stepped forward, the penny high in his hand, the spell book in his grip, the crowd surged forward, stranding him in the centre of the melee. Helpless, he could only look on at the spectacle.
What Jack had first thought was a rabid dog of some sort exploded over the man on the floor. In moments, blood spurted high into the air, almost tainting the London fog with its force, as the creature seemingly burrowed to the very core of the poor miscreant’s body. A rib was exposed before it snapped away; tissue was pared, much like peel from an apple. Before Jack could fight his way any closer, instruments, the liver, lungs, were sprayed across the cobbles, as if the demon was mining for something else, buried deeper and hidden; perhaps, in that moment, it was trying to eat the very soul of the poor wretch.  
By the time Jack had reached the corners of the crowd, the show was already over. Already, the men were beginning to disperse, their hunger sated, their dark needs satisfied. The creature was gone, back into the alleyways and the dark, so all that was left was the ringmaster, who stood solemnly over the carcass, a look of quiet joy on his face. He looked up and stared Jack right in the eye, winked and then stepped forward, careful to avoid the spray, his right foot hovering over a rib, before deftly side-stepping it.
“I sensed you, I did,” he said, not extending his hand but acknowledging Jack openly, all the same. “I felt the white heat searing the air, like a scythe. Different fingers, same heart. What happened to the old man who went before you?”
“He died defending his country,” Jack said, the pale feeling of what he had seen subsiding and being replaced with a sudden anger.
“And what a country it has become. Tell me friend; do you feel it is one worth saving? Let alone sacrificing noble souls such as the one that went before you.”
“You dare preach after conducting this monstrosity? Sir-” The man waved Jack away and began to walk down the cobbles. Jack followed him, dumb-struck.
“Come now, what is it you can prove? Scum being ravaged by a rabid dog? Or the fifty odd witnesses that cheered it on, before slipping back into the London fog for more depravity and debauchery? You have nothing.” The man kept his eyes on Jack the whole time, as if waiting for an attack.
“But what you are party to…” Jack said, struggling for the words to define just what exactly he was involved with here.
“This country is on its knees. The war has crippled us and people sag though their pockets are empty. The rich laugh from their county piles, while the country goes to the gutter. You ask me what it is I did tonight: I removed a killer and provide entertainment free of charge. I’ll be knighted before I am caged, sir.” They reached the harbour and the break of the fog.
“I will see this is done, sir. This has no place in our city and if you think me wrong you are sorely mistaken.” Jack flushed, stepping away from the man. Somewhere, a whistle blew and the heavy clip-clop of policemen filled the air.
“A country with no wealth is on its knees to any pleasure it can find, my friend. You mark me well on that. You and you’re lucky penny is best served further on up these canals, where the gambles and the cost are far lower.” He drew his cloak together and broke away from Jack’s gaze.
“How do you know about me, sir?” Jack called out as the man stalked down the street.
“Us charlatans stick together!” the man shouted back, as the mist thickened once more and the sound of a policeman vomiting filled the air.
Jack went back to work, unsettled by what he had seen. In the most simple terms, it had satisfied his suspicions that a werewolf was indeed loose in the London alleyways but that was just a single sliver of what was going on here. The man, in equal parts snake charmer and revolutionary, seemed to know Jack’s role better than he did himself. Add to that the seeming acquiescence of the crowd, no, the braying keenness of it, and Jack felt adrift in what his actions should be. It was as if everything around him were turned upside down; the Queen’s own country teetering on the edge of moral decay, its very fibre hovering on the abyss. He thought of monsters to be worshipped as gods and applauded for dealing with sinners while the courts fumbled along.
During the following week, Jack set about his plan. First he oiled and checked the calibrations of the rifle -- one of the last few things he had yet to pawn -- until it was to a standard. Along with that, he worked through the night, accruing hours and removing suspicion until he found himself with a window of time to act. He slipped into the machinist’s work-room and pulled his silver medals of honour into his palm. Without a second thought he poured them into a tool until it became a somehow beautiful puddle. When it was time, he poured the batch into the hollow boards and fashioned six silver bullets mere minutes before sunrise-and the morning crew-arrived at the docks.
On the night of the next full moon, Jack slipped back into the night and the fog, his body shivering with something other than the damp October skies. Rather than the creature, it was the man that bothered his thoughts; not just the eloquence with which he spoke, but the twisted, almost seamless logic he pursued it with. This is a man who could lead us into the next war, Jack thought. As he drifted deeper into the mist he wondered if the ringmaster was insane or close to a genius.         
The crowd had swelled one hundred deep by the time Jack reached its fringes. He wondered how the police could not help but be drawn to such a commotion and then realised with a cool, thin stab of horror that they were probably close by, waiting for the denouement before rushing to the remnants of the scene. Jack wondered if the ringmaster had even managed to talk the coppers into giving up the criminals in some sort of deal. As he peeled away and began to climb the ladder, Jack wondered if the government itself had been privy to a discussion with the charismatic leader of the mob.
Positioned within reach, Jack squinted into the sights of the rifle, trusting his old instincts to guide him towards the creature. The audience-and that was what it was now-began chanting and jeering, shambling as if afflicted by some voodoo chemical, until the master appeared at the very centre of the men. Jack felt the heat of the penny and drew it out of his pocket. Something in him, an instinct that was as unfamiliar as it was over-riding, made him slip the penny onto the edge of the scope of the rifle. Immediately the path way of his vision seemed to lighten, the mists sheared apart, the way unimpeded. Jack gasped once and then tightened his grip, just as the events played out before him.
It happened almost in slow motion; the criminal was flung into the heart of the group, the wolf itself burst from the alleyway and at the last moment, the ringmaster looked up, sensing the white heat funnelled from where Jack lay. The man tried to grab the creature but too late; Jack’s first bullet was true and clinical, dropping it to the floor before the cowed man could be attacked. The mob stopped confused, before cat-calling their master, surging forward, even as he escaped into the alleyway. Denied, the gang turned its attention to the huddled man on the floor and attacked with a ferocity Jack was uncertain the wolf itself possessed. He turned away, setting down the rifle, closing his eyes for a moment, listening to the pitiful screams and the higher, fevered screams of ecstasy that drowned him out.
Jack went back to work the following day, suppressing yawns and waiting for the papers, to see how the news of the night before would be reported. It was the eternal lie; a brave pack of local men confronted the killer and in the ensuing melee, the murderer spilled forth into the docks, his body undiscovered. The men were being considered for medals of valour by the council for their brave actions. Jack thought about the bullet lodged in the poor man-beasts’ heart and wondered which of them were the most monstrous in the whole, sorry affair.
It was as he made his way home that Jack saw the ringmaster, hovering at the edge of the docks and smiling to all and sundry. A couple of Dockers took offence at his grin and approached him but left a minute later, looking somewhat dazed and perhaps lighter in the pocket, Jack suspected.            
“Good evening Jack Trump!” The man called out, looking over. “You’re fellow workers say you are a hard-working, quiet man; they say the horrors of the war left their mark on you. They certainly sharpened your aim.” He pulled one of the Dockers wallets from his pocket and counted the coins as he sighed. “Stealing from the poor is such a redundant pursuit.”
“What do you want?” Jack said, suddenly feeling more tired than he thought possible; The same weariness he felt in the trenches, the idea of dying suffused with a cloak of lethargy that was as heavy as the world itself.
“I wanted to ask if you stayed to see the criminal dispatched. I wondered if you looked through your scope and saw the upstanding members of the community pull the poor lad’s head clean from his neck.”
“I saw enough,” Jack said quietly. He watched the man’s eyes sparkle with something like joy.
“This is the world we live in Jack. You’re penny only detects the ghouls, not the monsters.” He winked and turned on his heels. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Jack watched the man slip into the fog and disappear. For a moment he thought about the ringmaster and how a lunatic with a good line in words could almost sound like a politician. He thought about the crowd of men and how they had savaged a human being like a pack of dogs. The ideas Jack felt bubbled and brimmed in his head and he closed his eyes for a moment until all the hurt and pain subsided. Dawn broke as he walked towards a café, eager for coffee and to search the papers not only for what had happened but also the future and the next task at hand.


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