The Halloween Project Day 9: Birmingham, West Midlands – 1888
We need one straight out, hardcore, down and dirty, monster story. From Frankenstein to Pumpkinhead monsters are fun. Well, maybe not this one.
The accusing children, cruel with darted glances and angry words, waited for the man every day. Huge, larger than any person they had ever seen or imagined, he moved ponderously down the black and grease-stained street, like a ship sidling into port. Long, voluminous trench coat, dark trousers and huge shoes mirrored his expression. Sullen and depressed, he scowled at the pursuing children. They laughed, sharp mocking laughs, like splinters jabbing upward from the cobblestone street. Ugly threats and names rebounded from their taut voices off the downtrodden row houses. Each afternoon the scene repeated.
Their cruelty was born of poverty. It funneled into their youthful frustration, their inability to achieve, the absence of learning. Even more, their brutality ventilated their impossibility of escape. In this nameless, sprawling, industrial hole their children were doomed to become factory ghosts, captured like their parents and grandparents before them. Their souls would be lost as oil in the machines of rich, uncaring men. At 30 they would appear 60. Lungs and fingers broken in the smoking, rhythmic factories, most would be dead by 50. For many girls their first pregnancy would occur in their teens and then over and over again. If they were lucky they would become whores earning a shilling and the occasional half crown in alleyways and lofts enabling them to eat and keep a roof above.
But on this grim afternoon in October not one of the group was yet thirteen.
The filthy, scrabbling band hung together, more like a pack, and tossed rocks at the large man’s feet. He turned and grimaced, his face flat, features awry, as if they had been attached at discordant angles by a god with little mercy. One eye hung lower than the other, the lid a half closed curtain. His mouth hung slack, a toothless set of soft jaws gumming, but not pronouncing, returned curses. His body was large, gigantic, but oddly so.
“Dimwit!” the red faced boys would often yell, “You ugly creature!” Followed by, “Monster!” “Freak!”
He moved off, unevenly, as if unable to manage his own heavy weight. One leg dragged, the gigantic shoe rubbed bare at the toe. Arms were held tight to his sides, not used for balance. The coat was buttoned tight around his thick neck. Black hair was tufted into islands between baldness and scabrous lesions.
Each weekday at half past four he lumbered through the tenement streets. No one knew him or cared whether he possessed a name. Some rumored that he lived in the sewers below. Still at work, most adults missed his passing. Those who did passed to the other side of the alley. But today, as always, he turned again and again, countering the constant threats from the gang of youths.
If he were smaller they might have actually tossed him, kicking and pounding him with barrel staves, just to see what coin his pockets surrendered. There were no police to worry about. Bobbies never ventured down these dark corridors. His size alone held them at bay. Six feet and half again in a time when most were a foot shorter, to them he was a giant. His shoulders across the back were enormous. The large, roundish head converged with those shoulders displaying little hint of a neckline. His arms resembled stovepipe, ending in red, fleshy hands with sausage-shaped fingers.
There was something else about the man as well, but it was something that the pack only sensed. Like the way they knew when one of their fathers or uncles fell ill with “the lung”. Or when their mothers grumbled in the pantry, knowing full well there would be no food on the table that evening. Or in the darker shadows of the street outside the many pubs when they could hear the sounds coming from men with women, buying and selling, cheaply and quick.
They sensed this man’s strangeness. And it made them afraid.
Their catcalls were constant, daily. Like dogs, they worried him, yapping for an easy kill, yet fearful of the struggle. This grey and wet autumn afternoon they were emboldened, pushed by the dirty rain and deserted street into acts of malignant courage. That incessant rain, grimed with soot and ash, seemed to spit, rather than fall, from the sky. They stalked him through their territory and nudged each other with the sick, sly glances of those who smile at preying on others. Their passion was up. They felt as they did when catching street cats and hurling them down through the sewer grates. They’d watch and hoot as the cat held its own against two, three or five rats. But when the hordes of slime-coated, slick vermin grew to a dozen or more they laughed at the cat, its eyes wildly crazed upward toward the light and safety. The cat was screaming above their raucous cheers while being ripped apart.
“Get out of our street!” one yelled at him. A shard of brick stung the man’s leg.
“You bloody thing! Get off with you!” another voice joined.
Other screams followed and several stones. One rock, larger and true to its mark, struck the man in the back. A guttural grunt merged from his half turned face. One girl’s shrill voice carried above the others.
“You shit! You stinking, ugly shit!” her voice broke at the highest pitch.
The small mob jerked into action, quickly and with a design. They followed at three meters. Voices cackling with laughter and invective, they matched his struggling stride. He half stopped to turn and see their faces, recognizing the cruelty etched there. He had seen it before, felt its terrible fury. He sensed their madness. All they saw were the features of a man not quite right with the world.
The pack grew even braver. They sensed fear, but their mistake was not to realize the panic and hatred that was mingled just beneath the fear, growing wildly alive with each moment. They edged even closer, their voices sharp as razored daggers. The gap closed. A girl, the one who had yelled a moment before, reached out to give him a blunt shove. A flat, plainly ugly girl, she thought her maneuver would win her the mob’s approval. Her gutter-black hand reached out within inches of his tightly wrapped coat.
In a single, flashing movement, far faster than anything they thought possible from this shambling giant, the man whirled, slap-grabbing the girl’s arm at the wrist.
The gang was transfixed, frozen. The girl tried to pull her arm free, but the man’s huge hand engulfed it from write almost to elbow. Another darting flash and the man’s free hand filled with the thin neck of a young boy. His beefy fingers encircled completely.
Exploding into flight, the others fell backward, turning to run pell-mell and scattering into the dimness of the grey rain. The man’s moon-eyes struggled to focus, rolling, showing whites and then focusing down, quick and hard into the fear he saw reflected in each child’s face.
“Lemme go, you ape!” the boy barely garbled, only once, until the large man squeezed and the precious air lost to the boy quickly slowed his struggles. The man dragged the youths down the abandoned street half a block and careened into an alley. The girl screamed the entire distance. But if anyone heard, they did not care. This alley promised not a single window and a brick wall at the far end. He proceeded down into the shadows and threw the girl against the littered back wall among the bottles and reek like a lump of discarded coal. He blocked her exit. She turned from the pain in her wrist and back and screamed at the man still clutching the boy with one hand, raising him off the pavement.
“You slimy pervert! We’ll kill you for this!! You…” she stopped, mid curse, as if slapped.
She watched, her mind unraveling from its tiny, insulated core.
The large man hefted the boy in the air as if weighing him. Still conscious, now wild-eyed, the urchin’s feet scrabbled to return to a cobblestone foothold. The man drew him close, encircling his thin body with his other arm. He squeezed. The crush of pressure released a snapping sound like a dried stick breaking. The boys head flopped.
It was the boy’s spine. A strangled cry escaped the girl’s lips.
The searching arm moved higher and the crack sounded again, then again, higher still. Now it moved lower; another ugly, muffled pop. The boy’s body began to convulse, jittered in the man’s grasp. He continued to move an arm, up and down the boy’s torso, turning bone and vertebrae into knuckled splinters and mash. Again and still again, the sound filled the alleyway.
All noise and movement finally ended. A jerking foot stilled. The body, a limp, fleshy sack, dangled from the now extended arm. The other hand rose and moved to the skull. Both hands encased the boy’s head. They squeezed a moment. A moment longer. Then a sickening crunch and the skull caved. Pieces of brain and viscous liquid splattered to the stone.
The girl only stood.
The man moved his arm to his body and opened the trench coat. She could see clearly. No shirt covered him. A pendulous, purple fold of skin, stretch-marked and inhuman, hung suspended for several feet below the man’s neck. At the top stretched a hideous, elastic, lip-like protuberance in mockery of a mouth. It glistened with a raw sheen, quivering as the man moved.
His arms merged at the boy’s neck and simply crumpled the ranging, loose body into a compact mass. In an agile, practiced move the man stretched open the monstrous pouch and slipped the boy’s corpse inside.
The folded skin pushed open, bulging, accepting its reward.
The man turned toward the silent girl.