The legend I chose is more of an 'urban' legend: the Victorian London monster known as Spring Heeled Jack. I'm fascinated by the Victorian period, and while Spring Heeled Jack was regarded as everything from a clever prankster in disguise to a demon, I thought it would be fun to portray him as a real supernatural creature. I'm quite fond of the spooky stuff--if you're familiar with my work you probably already know this!
I've always thought it would be fun to write a story about some sort of Victorian 'ghost busters' keeping London's streets safe from evil. And even better if they have a sordid past (and future) together!
Luther Heppenstall has returned to London to help his old friend Mathias Adderly rid Peckham's streets of the demon known as Spring Heeled Jack. However, in the aftermath of Jack's defeat, Luther has to face some old demons from his past as well.
Rated: PG-13 (for mentions of violence)
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Heat Level: Sweet
Beyond the window in front of which Luther Heppenstall stood, gas lamps along Rye Laneburned as tiny beacons in the thick winter gloom. The world outside was layered in white, hiding the filth of Peckham's streets. Though the sights beyond the window were common, a sense of reality Luther had lost two days previous was yet to return to him. Once he'd stepped through the veil to the other, stranger side, the everyday mundane became unfamiliar to him.
"Is your trunk packed?" Mathias asked.
Luther could see Mathias' reflection in the glass, transparent, superimposed over the craggy gray skyline.
"Yes," Luther replied. "You have been most gracious to me. Your hospitality was remarkable, I shall not forget it."
Mathias' reflection stepped closer. "I only wish your stay here had been less traumatic."
"We did a good deed, disposing of that foul demon. Most of London may never know or understand, but they'll be safer."
Such was the fate of those who worked in the shadows, unknown and unsung. And how had it come to be?
In the early months of that year 1838, a dreadful pall had fallen over London, bleaker than the winter skies and more bone-chilling than the icy wind which blew from the north. The Lord Mayor himself took reluctantly to the papers to confirm the situation: the Devil walked among the good people, in the form of a clawed, flame-breathing, leaping monster called Spring Heeled Jack.
Of most good fortune then was the dominant presence in London of Mr. Mathias Adderly, eradicator of all dark forces. Until that fateful winter, his expertise in all matters spiritual and ghastly had been confined to ridding homes of spirits, communicating with the dead through séance, and chasing those smaller imps and demons of the Old Master back into the shadows. This foe being much bigger and more cunning, he had called upon another expert--Luther himself, for they had worked together before and combined were a potent force.
"I hope your journey home is a safe one," Mathias said. "If I can give you any blessing or charm to assure it, you need only ask."
Tomorrow morning Luther would leave London and return to Berkshire, hopefully to never return. Though he had come to the great city with the same skepticism he usually approached his work with, his world had been shaken.
"No blessing or charm," Luther said. "Haste is what I desire."
Luther turned from the window, cold clinging to his hands and face. Silence fell, broken only by the crackle of the fire on the hearth.
Mathias hadn't changed much in the three years since Luther had last seen him. He stood taller than Luther by six inches, thin and narrow-shouldered; his almond-shaped eyes and fine bone structure made him look both delicate and youthful. His dark hair fell in tousled waves across his forehead and curled haphazardly around his shirt collar. Though a gentleman, he always seemed unkempt. Mathias didn't care for modern fashion and kept himself two steps behind the world's constantly-updating sense of propriety. For this, Luther had always admired him.
"I was afraid he would kill you in those final moments," Mathias finally said, and the softened tone of his voice made Luther's stomach clench, bringing up memories long buried. "Though it's not the first time I've seen a demon in the flesh, I truly expected a prankster, nothing more."
Jack, they thought, was a clever charlatan or madman in disguise. Many times in their separate but equal lines of work chasing demons and night creatures they uncovered such truths. Jack had been the real thing though, the genuine force they had committed their lives to fighting. Though the monster had mainly confined himself to frightening women and plaguing travelers, when faced with opposition he revealed his true nature and turned from merely bothersome to deadly.
"And I expected a ruse as well," Luther said. "But we are alive, if tattered. And it was good to see you again."
Mathias gazed steadily at him, and those memories Luther unwittingly allowed to come forth seemed visceral, a thing wrapped around him. He had long tried to ignore such feelings but now he couldn't, not while looking at that somber, beguiling visage.
"I hesitated to write you," Mathias said. "I didn't know if you would come."
"You must understand I will always be your friend. I wouldn't have said no."
"I will be unhappy to see you go."
"I will be unhappy to leave, for certain reasons. But joyous for the more obvious ones."
Luther wished he could get home quicker, but he didn't want to face the night on the road. Paranoia crept in with the darkness like a monster slithering out from under a child's bed. When he looked into the black, he saw hollow red eyes and a gaunt face cut by shadows, a leering demon hovering above him with a smile like a skull. He could only think of being chased through the streets and the flash of blue flame and click of iron claws. His shoulder and side ached constantly, as if to assure he didn't forget those talons breaking his skin while being held down and brought to the edge of oblivion.
"Why don't you come back to Berkshire with me?" Luther asked, as though the idea had just come to him, when in actuality he'd been building up to asking Mathias the question from the moment they knew they were safe. "You need a respite from this place."
"I can't," Mathias replied. "I must stay and keep guard for other demons that might terrorize the populace. Protect them, as I did you." In addition to the other terrors which plagued his memory, Luther would never forget the blast of the gun, or the feel of warm, sticky blood and the weight of a slick body slumping on top of him. "They need me," Mathias said."What would I do in Berkshire anyway?"
"I don't know." Luther realized as soon as he uttered the words he should have tried harder to make an argument. He had spent too much time not speaking to Mathias, trying to forget him and at the same time always remembering him.
"You're going back to your simple imps and specters. And it's safer for you there." Mathias smoothed his hands over his waistcoat and righted it. "Come, let's have a drink in the parlor before you retire. It'll help you sleep easier tonight."
"I think I should need quite a few drinks to achieve that."
"I have an entire bottle, it's no worry."
They had a drink—several drinks on Luther's part—in the parlor, because Luther didn't want to retire to the darkness of his bedchamber with all his senses. The pain from his sutured cuts was eased by the liquor as well. Truly, he ached more from the grave they'd dug. Disposing of the foul corpse in consecrated ground assured it would not rise again to terrorize London's streets.
"I felt safe with you by my side, as in the old days," Luther said, sitting in a chair by the fire. "Even though I thought you were mad when I first met you, chasing demons and hunting ghosts. But through you I learned there is much beyond our sensible understanding of the world. You taught me all I know about keeping myself protected from what lurks in the night."
Mathias grunted. "I think there is still much to learn. Your wounds would say so."
"Ah, there is. Each year I learn the Devil has many cards in his deck. Many times I thought to write you for advice, or to tell you of something new I had found."
"It was the same with me."
"We should not have lost each other as we did."
"So why did we?"
Mathias put his glass aside and there seemed a heaviness to his movements, to his very demeanor. "We let too many personal affairs come in the way of our work," he said, without looking at Luther. "It was better we went on to our own fortunes."
"You have not married," Luther said.
"I suppose the nature of our work makes it too dangerous to have wives and families. I wouldn't want to expose anyone I cared for to the thing we battled."
Mathias said nothing. They sat in silence for a while, Luther staring into the fire, Mathias staring toward the window. A queer sickness twisted in Luther's stomach, an odd longing for something he couldn't name.
"We should retire soon," Mathias said.
"Yes." Luther finished off his glass. He didn't feel any more prepared to face the night.
"I'm sorry," Mathias said. "For everything."
Luther looked at him and smiled. Maybe the drink had gone to his head, but he thought maybe, just for a second, he saw something tender under Mathias' turgid exterior, something of the young and vital man he used to be, before he saw too much of what lurked in the shadows.
Luther rose from his chair. "Walk with me up to my room?"
Mathias led him by a candle up the stairs. He kept no house staff. He had never been a man to have others do things for him.
When they reached the landing, Mathias looked at Luther and in the flickering light his expression was deeply serious, stern and oddly protective. He reached over and tugged the collar of Luther's shirt aside. Luther looked down, a flush creeping across his cheeks.
"How are the wounds coming?" Mathias asked, indicating the beginning of the bandages just below Luther's collarbone.
"They have their moments." Luther lifted his chin, the back of Mathias' hand touching his neck, warmth radiating from his skin. Luther had the inane urge to nuzzle his wrist.
"Legend says if a supernatural creature attacks you, some of their power becomes yours forever," Mathias said.
Luther huffed. "I'm glad it's only legend. I don't fancy the power to leap over walls or spit flames."
"It can be reversed however, if you're bathed in holy water and blessed."
"If it's all the same, I think I shall take my chances. I'd rather heal before anyone goes bathing and blessing me. I've suffered enough pain."
Mathias still held Luther's collar aside. The cold air in the stairwell rushed inside his shirt and he shivered.
"Are you going off to bed now?" Luther asked.
Mathias stepped forward and to Luther's surprise, lowered his face to Luther's shoulder. Luther flinched reflexively. He felt the warm press of Mathias' mouth over the bandage for a brief moment, and then Mathias lifted his head and stepped back. Luther stared at him, heart racing.
"That will do for now," Mathias said, seemingly unruffled.
Luther continued to stare at him, unable to speak.
"And," Mathias said, "I'd like to come to Berkshire sometime, I suppose."
Luther swallowed and nodded.
"You ought to retire," Mathias said. "My old, dear friend."
Luther sat up in the darkness of his room and looked toward the window, a dull glow emanating from the lamps reflecting on the snow in the street below. No candle glowed at his bedside tonight. He hadn't been woken by a nightmare, either. In fact, he'd slept soundly for the first time since meeting up with Spring Heeled Jack. Only the pain in his shoulder had pulled him out of rest.
He winced and rubbed the sutures, shoulder bare as he'd taken the bandage off to give the wound some air. He pushed back the blankets and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The room was icy as there was no fire in the hearth. He found the chamber pot, relieved himself of the evening's intake of alcohol, and walked back to the bed. He winced again as he sat on the mattress and put his hand to his shoulder, the ache sharp and insistent. As he turned to lie down again he felt wetness on his fingertips and groaned.
A warm hand encircled his wrist and a soft voice said from the other side of the bed, "Is it still hurting?"
"It's bleeding again."
He felt a shifting on the mattress and then an arm reached around him. A wet cloth was pressed into his hand, once warm, now cold. Luther put the rag to his shoulder and emitted a soft hiss, but the coolness made the burning stop and he felt better at once.
"You ought to have some laudanum," Mathias said as he gently eased Luther back on the pillows. Luther settled down and Mathias draped the heavy blankets over him. "I'll send for some from the chemist in the morning."
"I can handle the pain," Luther said. "In time it will pass and only the right we did here shall remain. London is safe." He paused. "It will be even safer with both of us here."
"You're certain of your decision to stay?"
"I'm not at all certain, and even less certain I'll enjoy it here. But you--you are more reason to stay than any demon or trickster." Luther thought about the place he had called home these last few years, and for the first time, he realized how lonely he'd been there, how much he'd ached. Not for another place, but a person.
Under the warmth of the blankets Mathias rested his hand on Luther's lower belly, and Luther felt the brush of Mathias' bare thigh against his hip. Luther understood their lives would become complicated with the need for secrecy and discreetness, even though their situation seemed completely simple there in the darkness. It was love, simply, as it always had been, and Luther had always been so afraid of it, more afraid of the things within him than without.
Luther still ached from the things they'd done a few hours before in the name of that love, the things that had probably led to the loosening of his sutures, but he didn't mind.
"I'll learn to love London," Luther said softly. "As I do you and always have."
"I suppose I ought to thank Spring Heeled Jack," Mathias murmured. "He brought you back to me."
"Perhaps then, he was more angel than demon."
Lydia Nyx is a gay romance and erotica author, also specializing in urban fantasy and a little bit of horror. She is published with Torquere Press, Dreamspinner Press, Noble Romance Publishing, Freaky Fountain Press, and later this year, with Storm Moon Press and Lillibridge Press (she's everywhere!). She usually likes and writes paranormal and dark things, but also occasionally writes some happy, light, non-spooky stuff. Check out her website for her full list of current and upcoming titles: www.lydianyx.com
Her next release from Torquere Press will be supporting the It Gets Better Project, all royalties going to the charity. Please check it out!