/ Language: English / Genre:sf

The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World

Harlan Ellison


The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World

by Harlan Ellison

First there was the city, never night. Tin and reflective, walls of antiseptic metal like an immense autoclave. Pure and dust-free, so silent that even the whirling innards of its heart and mind were sheathed from notice. The city was self-contained, and footfalls echoed up and around—flat slapped notes of an exotic leather-footed instrument. Sounds that reverberated back to the maker like yodels thrown out across mountain valleys. Sounds made by humbled inhabitants whose lives were as ordered, as sanitary, as metallic as the city they had caused to hold them bosom-tight against the years. The city was a complex artery, the people were the blood that flowed icily through the artery. They were a gestalt with one another, forming a unified whole. It was a city shining in permanence, eternal in concept, flinging itself up in a formed and molded statement of exaltation; most modern of all modern structures, conceived as the pluperfect residence for the perfect people. The final end-result of all sociological blueprints aimed at Utopia. Living space, it had been called, and so, doomed to live they were, in that Erewhon of graphed respectability and cleanliness.

Never night.

Never shadowed.

…a shadow.

A blot moving against the aluminum cleanliness. The movement of rags and bits of clinging earth from graves sealed ages before. A shape.

He touched a gunmetal-gray wall in passing: the imprint of dusty fingers. A twisted shadow moving through antiseptically pure streets, and they become—with his passing—black alleys from another time.

Vaguely, he knew what had happened. Not specifically, not with particulars, but he was strong, and he was able to get away without the eggshell-thin walls of his mind caving in. There was no place in this shining structure to secrete himself, a place to think, but he had to have time. He slowed his walk, seeing no one. Somehow—inexplicably—he felt…safe? Yes, safe. For the first time in a very long time.

A few minutes before he had been standing in the narrow passageway outside No.13 Miller’s Court. It had been 6: 15 in the morning. London had been quiet as he paused in the passageway of MCarthy’s Rents, in that fetid, urine-redolent corridor where the whores of Spitalfields took their clients. A few minutes before, the foetus in its bath of formaldehyde tightly-stoppered in a glass bottle inside his Gladstone bag, he had paused to drink in the thick fog, before taking the circuitous route back to Toynbee Hall. That had been a few minutes before. Then, suddenly, he was in another place and it was no longer 6:15 of a chill November morning in 1888.

He had looked up as light flooded him in that other place. It had been soot silent in Spitalfields, but suddenly, without any sense of having moved or having been moved, he was flooded with light. And when he looked up he was in that other place. Paused now, only a few minutes after the transfer, he leaned against the bright wall of the city, and recalled the light. From a thousand mirrors. In the walls, in the ceiling. A bedroom with a girl in it. A lovely girl. Not like Black Mary Kelly or Dark Annie Chapman or Kate Eddowes or any of the other pathetic scum he had been forced to attend…

A lovely girl. Blonde, wholesome, until she had opened her robe and turned into the same sort of slut he had been compelled to use in his work in Whitechapel…

A sybarite, a creature of pleasures, a Juliette she had said, before he used the big-bladed knife on her. He had found the knife under the pillow, on the bed to which she had led him—how shameful, unresisting had he been, all confused, clutching his black bag with all the tremors of a child, he who had been moved through the London night like oil, moved where he wished, accomplished his ends unchecked eight times, now led toward sin by another, merely another of the tarts, taking advantage of him while he tried to distinguish what had happened to him and where he was, how shameful—and he had used it on her.

That had only been minutes before, though he had worked very efficiently on her.

The knife had been rather unusual. The blade had seemed to be two wafer-thin sheets of metal with a pulsing, glowing something between. A kind of sparking, such as might be produced by a Van de Graaf generator. But that was patently ridiculous. It had no wires attached to it, no bus bars, nothing to produce even the crudest electrical discharge. He had thrust the knife into the Gladstone bag, where now it lay beside the scalpels and the spool of catgut and the racked vials in their leather cases, and the foetus in its bottle. Mary Jane Kelly’s foetus.

He had worked efficiently, but swiftly, and had laid her out almost exactly in the same fashion as Kate Eddowes: the throat slashed completely through from ear-to-ear, the torso laid open down between the breasts to the vagina, the intestines pulled out and draped over the right shoulder, a piece of the intestines being detached and placed between the left arm and the body. The liver had been punctured with the point of the knife, with a vertical cut slitting the left lobe of the liver. (He had been surprised to find the liver showed none of the signs of cirrhosis so prevalent in these Spitalfields tarts, who drank incessantly to rid themselves of the burden of living the dreary lives they moved through grotesquely. In fact, this one seemed totally unlike the others, even if she had been more brazen in her sexual overtures. And that knife under the bed pillow…) He had severed the vena cava leading to the heart. Then he had gone to work on the face.

He had thought of removing the left kidney again, as he had Kate Eddowes’. He smiled to himself as he conjured up the expression that must have been on the face of Mr. George Lusk, chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, when he received the cardboard box in the mail. The box containing Miss Eddowes’ kidney, and the letter, impiously misspelled:

From hell, Mr. Lusk, sir, I send you half the kidne I took from one woman, prasarved it for you, tother piece I fried and ate it; was very nice. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate while longer. Catch me when you can, Mr. Lusk.

He had wanted to sign that one “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” or even Spring-Heeled Jack or maybe Leather Apron, whichever had tickled his fancy, but a sense of style had stopped him. To go too far was to defeat his own purposes. It may even have been too much to suggest to Mr. Lusk that he had eaten the kidney. How hideous. True, he had smelled it…

This blonde girl, this Juliette with the knife under her pillow. She was the ninth. He leaned against the smooth steel wall without break or seam, and he rubbed his eyes. When would he be able to stop? When would they realize, when would they get his message, a message so clear, written in blood, that only the blindness of their own cupidity forced them to misunderstand! Would he be compelled to decimate the endless regiments of Spitalfields sluts to make them understood? Would he be forced to run the cobbles ankle-deep in black blood before they sensed what he was saying, and were impelled to make reforms?

But as he took his blood-soaked hands from his eyes, he realized what he must have sensed all along: he was no longer in Whitechapel. This was not Miller’s Court, nor anywhere in Spitalfields. It might not even be London. But how could that be?

Had God taken him? Had he died, in a senseless instant between the anatomy lesson of Mary Jane Kelly (that filth, she had actually kissed him!) and the bedroom disembowelment of this Juliette? Had Heaven finally called him to his reward for the work he had done?

The Reverend Mr. Barnett would love to know about this. But then, he’d have loved to know about it all. But “Leather Apron” wasn’t about to tell. Let the reforms come as the Reverend and his wife wished for them, and let them think their pamphleteering had done it, instead of the scalpels of Jack.

If he was dead, would his work be finished? He smiled to himself. If Heaven had taken him, then it must be that the work was finished. Successfully. But if that was so, then who was this Juliette who now lay spread out moist and cooling in the bedroom of a thousand mirrors? And in that instant he felt fear.

What if even God misinterpreted what he had done?

As the good folk of Queen Victoria’s London had misinterpreted. As Sir Charles Warren had misinterpreted. What if God believed the superficial and ignored the real reason? But no! Ludicrous. If anyone would understand, it was the good God who had sent him the message that told him to set things a-right.

God loved him, as he loved God, and God would know.

But he felt fear, in that moment.

Because who was the girl he had just carved?

“She was my granddaughter, Juliette,” said a voice immediately beside him.

His head refused to move, to turn that few inches to see who spoke. The Gladstone was beside him, resting on the smooth and reflective surface of the street. He could not get to a knife before he was taken. At last they had caught up with Jack. He began to shiver uncontrollably.

“No need to be afraid,” the voice said. It was a warm and succoring voice. An older man. He shook as with an ague. But he turned to look. It was a kindly old man with a gentle smile. Who spoke again, without moving his lips. “No one can hurt you. How do you do?”

The man from 1888 sank slowly to his knees. “Forgive me, Dear God, I didn’t know.” The old man’s laughter rose inside the head of the man on his knees. It rose like a beam of sunlight moving across a Whitechapel alleyway, from noon to one o’clock, rising and illuminating the gray bricks of soot-coated walls. It rose, and illuminated his mind.

“I’m not God. Marvelous idea, but no, I’m not God. Would you like to meet God? I’m sure we can find one of the artists who would mold one for you. Is it important? No, I can see it isn’t. What a strange mind you have. You neither believe nor doubt. How can you contain both concepts at once…would you like me to straighten some of your brain-patterns? No. I see, you’re afraid. Well, let it be for the nonce. We’ll do it another time.”

He grabbed the kneeling man and drew him erect.

“You’re covered with blood. Have to get you cleaned up. There’s an ablute near here. Incidentally, I was very impressed with the way you handled Juliette. You’re the first, you know. No, how could you know? In any case, you are the first to deal her as good as she gave. You would have been amused at what she did to Caspar Hauser. Squeezed part of his brain and then sent him back, let him live out part of his life and then—the little twit—she made me bring him back a second time and used a knife on him. Same knife you took, I believe. Then sent him back to his own time. Marvelous mystery. In all the tapes on unsolved phenomena. But she was much sloppier than you. She had a great verve in her amusements, but very little éclat. Except with Judge Crater; there she was—” He paused, and laughed lightly. “I’m an old man and I ramble on like a muskrat. You want to get cleaned up and shown around, I know. And then we can talk.

“I just wanted you to know I was satisfied with the way you disposed of her. In a way, I’ll miss the little twit. She was such a good fuck.”

The old man picked up the Gladstone bag and, holding the man spattered with blood, he moved off down the clean and shimmering street. “You wanted her killed?” the man from 1888 asked, unbelieving.

The old man nodded, but his lips never moved. “Of course. Otherwise why bring her Jack the Ripper?”

Oh my dear God, he thought, I’m in hell. And I’m entered as Jack.

“No, my boy, no no no. You’re not in hell at all. You’re in the future. For you the future, for me the world of now. You came from 1888 and you’re now in—” he stopped, silently speaking for an instant, as though computing apples in terms of dollars, then resumed “—3077. It’s a fine world, tilled with happy times, and we’re glad to have you with us. Come along now, and you’ll wash.”

In the ablutatorium, the late Juliette’s grandfather changed his head.

“I really despise it,” he informed the man from 1888, grabbing fingerfuls of his cheeks and stretching the flabby skin like elastic. “But Juliette insisted. I was willing to humor her, if indeed that was what it took to get her to lie down. But what with toys from the past, and changing my head every time I wanted her to fuck me, it was trying; very trying.”

He stepped into one of the many identically shaped booths set flush into the walls. The tambour door rolled down and there was a soft chukk sound, almost chitinous. The tambour door rolled up and the late Juliette’s grandfather, now six years younger than the man from 1888, stepped out, stark naked and wearing a new head. “The body is fine, replaced last year,” he said, examining the genitals and a mole on his right shoulder. The man from 1888 looked away. This was hell and God hated him.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Jack.” Juliette’s grandfather smiled. “Hit one of those booths and get your ablutions.”

“That isn’t my name,” said the man from 1888 very softly, as though he had been whipped.

“It’ll do, it’ll do…now go get washed.”

Jack approached one of the booths. It was a light green in color, but changed to mauve as he stopped in front of it. “Will it—”

“It will only clean you, what are you afraid of?”

“I don’t want to be changed.”

Juliette’s grandfather did not laugh. “That’s a mistake,” he said cryptically. He made a peremptory motion with his hand and the man from 1888 entered the booth, which promptly revolved in its niche, sank into the floor and made a hearty zeeeezzzz sound. When it rose and revolved and opened, Jack stumbled out, looking terribly confused. His long sideburns had been neatly trimmed, his beard stubble had been removed, his hair was three shades lighter and was now parted on the left side, rather than in the middle. He still wore the same long dark coat trimmed with astrakhan, dark suit with white collar and black necktie (in which was fastened a horseshoe stickpin) but now the garments seemed new, unsoiled of course, possibly synthetics built to look like his former garments.

“Now!” Juliette’s grandfather said. “Isn’t that much better? A good cleansing always sets one’s mind to rights.” And he stepped into another booth from which he issued in a moment wearing a soft paper jumper that fitted from neck to feet without a break. He moved toward the door.

“Where are we going?” the man from 1888 asked the younger grandfather beside him. “I want you to meet someone,” said Juliette’s grandfather, and Jack realized that he was moving his lips now. He decided not to comment on it. There had to be a reason.

“I’ll walk you there, if you promise not to make gurgling sounds at the city. It’s a nice city, but I live here, and frankly, tourism is boring.” Jack did not reply. Grandfather took it for acceptance of the terms.

They walked. Jack became overpowered by the sheer weight of the city. It was obviously extensive, massive, and terribly clean. It was his dream for Whitechapel come true. He asked about slums, about doss houses. The grandfather shook his head. “Long gone.”

So it had come to pass. The reforms for which he pledged his immortal soul, they had come to pass. He swung the Gladstone and walked jauntily. But after a few minutes his pace sagged once more: there was no one to be seen in the streets.

Just shining clean buildings and streets that ran off in aimless directions and came to unexpected stops as though the builders had decided people might vanish at one point and reappear someplace else, so why bother making a road from one point to the other.

The ground was metal, the sky seemed metallic, the buildings loomed on all sides, featureless explorations of planed space by insensitive metal. The man from 1888 felt terribly alone, as though every act he had performed had led inevitably to his alienation from the very people he had sought to aid.

When he had come to Toynbee Hall, and the Reverend Mr. Barnett had opened his eyes to the slum horrors of Spitalfields, he had vowed to help in any way he could. It had seemed as simple as faith in the Lord what to do, after a few months in the sinkholes of Whitechapel. The sluts, of what use were they? No more use than the disease germs that had infected these very same whores. So he had set forth as Jack, to perform the will of God and raise the poor dregs who inhabited the East End of London. That Lord Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and his Queen, and all the rest thought him a mad doctor, or an amok butcher, or a beast in human form did not distress him. He knew he would remain anonymous through all time, but that the good works he had set in motion would proceed to their wonderful conclusion.

The destruction of the most hideous slum area the country had ever known, and the opening of Victorian eyes. But all the time had passed, and now he was here, in a world where slums apparently did not exist, a sterile Utopia that was the personification of the Reverend Mr. Barnett’s dreams—but it didn’t seem…right.

This grandfather, with his young head.

Silence in the empty streets.

The girl, Juliette, and her strange hobby.

The lack of concern at her death.

The grandfather’s expectation that he, Jack, would kill her. And now his friendliness.

Where were they going?

[Around them, the City. As they walked, the grandfather paid no attention, and Jack watched but did not understand. But this was what they saw as they walked:

[Thirteen hundred beams of light, one foot wide and seven molecules thick, erupted from almost-invisible slits in the metal streets, fanned out and washed the surfaces of the buildings; they altered hue to a vague blue and washed down the surfaces of the buildings; they bent and covered all open surfaces, bent at right angles, then bent again, and again, like origami paper figures; they altered hue a second time, soft gold, and penetrated the surfaces of the buildings, expanding and contracting in solid waves, washing the inner surfaces; they withdrew rapidly into the sidewalks; the entire process had taken twelve seconds.

[Night fell over a sixteen block area of the City. It descended in a solid pillar and was quite sharp-edged, ending at the street corners. From within the area of darkness came the distinct sounds of crickets, marsh frogs belching, night birds, soft breezes in trees, and faint music of unidentifiable instruments.

[Panes of frosted light appeared suspended freely in the air, overhead. A wavery insubstantial quality began to assault the topmost levels of a great structure directly in front of the light-panes. As the panes moved slowly down through the air, the building became indistinct, turned into motes of light, and floated upward. As the panes reached the pavement, the building had been completely dematerialized. The panes shifted color to a deep orange, and began moving upward again. As they moved, a new structure began to form where the previous building had stood, drawing—it seemed—motes of light from the air and forming them into a cohesive whole that became, as the panes ceased their upward movement, a new building. The light-panes winked out of existence.

[The sound of a bumblebee was heard for several seconds. Then it ceased.

[A crowd of people in rubber garments hurried out of a gray pulsing hole in the air, patted the pavement at their feet, then rushed off around a corner, from where emanated the sound of prolonged coughing. Then silence returned.

[A drop of water, thick as quicksilver, plummeted to the pavement, struck, bounded, rose several inches, then evaporated into a crimson smear in the shape of a whale’s tooth, which settled to the pavement and lay still.

[Two blocks of buildings sank into the pavement and the metal covering was smooth and unbroken, save for a metal tree whose trunk was silver and slim, topped by a ball of foliage constructed of golden fibers that radiated brightly in a perfect circle. There was no sound.

[The late Juliette’s grandfather and the man from 1888 continued walking.]

“Where are we going?”

“To van Cleef’s. We don’t usually walk; oh, sometimes; but it isn’t as much pleasure as it used to be. I’m doing this primarily for you. Are you enjoying yourself?”

“It’s…unusual.”

“Not much like Spitalfields, is it? But I rather like it back there, at that time. I have the only Traveler, did you know? The only one ever made. Juliette’s father constructed it, my son. I had to kill him to get it. He was thoroughly unreasonable about it, really. It was a casual thing for him. He was the last of the tinkerers, and he might just as easily have given it to me. But I suppose he was being cranky. That was why I had you carve up my granddaughter. She would have gotten around to me almost any time now. Bored, just silly bored is what she was—”.

The gardenia took shape in the air in front of them, and turned into the face of a woman with long white hair. “Hernon, we can’t wait much longer!” She was annoyed.

Juliette’s grandfather grew livid. “You scum bitch! I told you pace. But no, you just couldn’t, could you? Jump jump jump, that’s all you ever do. Well, now it’ll only be feddels less, that’s all. Feddels, damn you! I set it for pace. I was working pace, and you…!”

His hand came up and moss grew instantly toward the face. The face vanished, and a moment later the gardenia reappeared a few feet away. The moss shriveled and Hernon, Juliette’s grandfather, dropped his hand, as though weary at the woman’s stupidity. A rose, a water lily, a hyacinth, a pair of phlox, a wild celandine, and a bull thistle appeared near the gardenia. As each turned into the face of a different person, Jack stepped back, frightened.

All the faces turned to the one that had been the bull thistle. “Cheat! Rotten bastard!” they screamed at the thin white face that had been the bull thistle. The gardenia-woman’s eyes bulged from her lace, the deep purple eye-shadow that completely surrounded the eyeball making her look like a deranged animal peering out of a cave. “Turd!” she shrieked at the bull thistle-man. “We all agreed, we all said and agreed; you had to formz a thistle, didn’t you, scut! Well, now you’ll see…”

She addressed herself instantly to the others. “Formz now! To hell with waiting, pace fuck! Now!”

“No, dammit,” Hernon shouted. “We were going to paaaaaace!” But it was too late. Centering in on the bull thistle-man, the air roiled thickly like silt at a river-bottom, and the air blackened as a spiral began with the now terrified face of the bull thistle-man and exploded whirling outward, enveloping Jack and Hernon and all the flower-people and the City and suddenly it was night in Spitalfields and the man from 1888 was in 1888, with his Gladstone bag in his hand, and a woman approaching down the street toward him, shrouded in the London fog.

(There were eight additional nodules in Jack’s brain.)

The woman was about forty, weary and not too clean. She wore a dark dress of rough material that reached down to her boots. Over the skirt was fastened a white apron that was stained and wrinkled. The bulbed sleeves ended midway up her wrists and the bodice of the dress was buttoned close around her throat. She wore a kerchief tied at the neck, and a hat that looked like a widebrimmed skimmer with a raised crown. There was a pathetic little flower of unidentifiable origin in the band of the hat. She carried a beaded handbag of capacious size, hanging from a wrist-loop.

Her step slowed as she saw him standing there, deep in the shadows. “Saw him” was hardly accurate: sensed him.

He stepped out and bowed slightly from the waist. “Fair evenin’ to ye, Miss. Care for a pint?”

Her features—sunk in misery of a kind known only to women who have taken in numberless shafts of male blood-gorged flesh—rearranged themselves. “Coo, sir, I thought was ‘im for true. Old Leather Apron hisself. Gawdamighty, you give me a scare.” She tried to smile. It was a rictus. There were bright spots in her cheeks from sickness and too much gin. Her voice was ragged, a broken-edged instrument barely workable.

“Just a solicitor caught out without comp’ny,” Jack assured her. “And pleased to buy a handsome lady a pint of stout for a few hours’ companionship.”

She stepped toward him and linked arms. “Emily Matthewes, sir, an’ pleased to go with you. It’s a fearsome chill night, and with Slippery Jack abroad not safe for a respectin’ woman such’s m’self.”

They moved off down Thrawl Street, past the doss houses where this drab might flop later, if she could obtain a few coppers from this neat-dressed stranger with the dark eyes.

He turned right onto Commercial Street, and just abreast of a stinking alley almost to Flower Dean Street, he nudged her sharply sidewise. She went into the alley, and thinking he meant to steal a smooth hand up under her petticoats, she settled back against the wall and opened her legs, starting to lift the skirt around her waist. But Jack had hold of the kerchief and, locking his fingers tightly, he twisted, cutting off her breath. Her cheeks ballooned, and by a vagary of light from a gas standard in the street he could see her eyes go from hazel to a dead-leaf brown in an instant. Her expression was one of terror, naturally, but commingled with it was a deep sadness, at having lost the pint, at having not been able to make her doss for the night, at having had the usual Emily Matthewes bad luck to run afoul this night of the one man who would ill-use her favors. It was a consummate sadness at the inevitability of her fate.

A film came over her eyes and as her breath husked

I come to you out of the night. The night that sent me down all the minutes of our lives to this instant. From this time forward, men will wonder what happened at this instant. They will silently hunger to go back, to come to my instant with you and see my face and know my name and perhaps not even try to stop me, for then I would not be who I am, but only someone who tried and failed. Ah. For you and me it becomes history that will lure men always, but they will never understand why we both suffered, Emily; they will never truly understand why each of us died so terribly.

out in wheezing, pleading tremors, his free hand went into the pocket of the greatcoat. He had known he would need it, when they were walking, and he had already invaded the Gladstone bag. Now his hand went into the pocket and came up with the scalpel.

“Emily…” softly.

Then he sliced her.

Neatly, angling the point of the scalpel into the soft flesh behind and under her left ear. Sternocleidomastoideus. Driving it in to the gentle crunch of cartilage giving way. Then, grasping the instrument tightly, tipping it down and drawing it across the width of the throat, following the line of the firm jaw. Glandula submandiblularis. The blood poured out over his hands, ran thickly at first and then burst spattering past him, reaching the far wall of the alley. Up his sleeves, soaking his white cuffs. She made a watery rattle and sank limply in his grasp, his fingers still twisted tight in her kerchief; black abrasions where he had scored the flesh. He continued the cut up past the point of the jaw’s end, and sliced into the lobe of the ear. He lowered her to the filthy paving. She lay crumpled, and he straightened her. Then he cut away the garments laying her naked belly open to the wan and flickering light of the gas standard in the street. Her belly was bloated. He started the primary cut in the hollow of her throat. Glandula thyreoeidea. His hand was sure as he drew a thin black line of blood down and down, between the breasts. Sternum. Cutting a deep cross in the hole of her navel. Something vaguely yellow oozed up. Plica umbilicalis media. Down over the rounded hump of the belly, biting more deeply, withdrawing for a neat incision. Mesenterlum dorsale commune. Down to the matted-with-sweat roundness of her privates. Harder here. Vesica urinaria. And finally, to the end, vagina.

Filth hole.

Foul-smelling die red lust pit wet hole of sluts.

And in his head, succubi. And in his head eyes watching. And in his head minds impinging. And in his head titillation

for a gardenia

a water lily

a rose

a hyacinth

a pair of phlox

a wild celandine

and a dark flower with petals of obsidian, a stamen of onyx, pistils of anthracite, and the Mind of Hernon, who was the late Juliette’s grandfather.

They watched the entire horror of the mad anatomy lesson. They watched him nick the eyelids. They watched him remove the heart. They watched him slice out the fallopian tubes. They watched him squeeze, till it ruptured, the “ginny” kidney. They watched him slice off the sections of breast till they were nothing but shapeless mounds of bloody meat, and arrange them, one mound each on a still-staring, wide-open, nicked-eyelid eye. They watched.

They watched and they drank from the deep troubled pool of his mind. They sucked deeply at the moist quivering core of his id. And they delighted.

Oh God how Delicious look at that it looks like the uneaten rind of a Pizza or look at That it looks like lumaconi oh god IIIIIwonder what it would be like to Tasteit!

See how smooth the steel.

HE HATES THEM ALL, EVERYONE OF THEM, SOMETHING ABOUT A GIRL, A VENEREAL DISEASE, FEAR OF HIS GOD, CHRIST, THE REVEREND MR. BARNETT, HE…HE WANTS TO FUCK THE REVEREND’S WIFE!

Social reform can only be brought about by concerted effort of a devoted few. Social reform is a justifiable end, condoning any expedient short of decimation of over fifty per cent of the people who will be served by the reforms. The best social reformers are the most audacious. He believes it! How lovely!

YOU PACK OF VAMPIRES, YOU FILTH, YOU SCUM, YOU…

He senses us!

DAMN HIM! DAMN YOU, HERNON, YOU DREW OFF TOO DEEPLY, HE KNOWS WE’RE HERE, THAT’S DISGUSTING, WHAT’S THE SENSE NOW? I’M WITHDRAWING!

Come back, you’ll end the formz…

…back they plunged in the spiral as it spiraled back in upon itself and the darkness of the night of 1888 withdrew. The spiral drew in and in and locked at its most infinitesimal point as the charred and blackened face of the man who had been the bull thistle. He was quite dead. His eyeholes had been burned out; charred wreckage lay where intelligence had lived. They had used him as a focus.

The man from 1888 came back to himself instantly, with a full and eidetic memory of what he had just experienced. It had not been a vision, nor a dream, nor a delusion, nor a product of his mind. It had happened. They had sent him back, erased his mind of the transfer into the future, of Juliette, of everything after the moment outside No. 13 Miller’s Court. And they had set him to work pleasuring them, while they drained off his feelings, his emotions and his unconscious thoughts; while they battened and gorged themselves with the most private sensations. Most of which, till this moment—in a strange feedback—he had not known he possessed. As his mind plunged on from one revelation to the next, he felt himself growing ill. At one concept his mind tried to pull back and plunge him into darkness rather than confront it. But the barriers were down, they had opened new patterns and he could read it all, remember it all. Stinking sex hole, sluts, they have to die. No, that wasn’t the way he thought of women, any women, no matter how low or common. He was a gentleman, and women were to be respected. She had given him the clap. He remembered. The shame and the endless fear till he had gone to his physician father and confessed it. The look on the man’s face. He remembered it all. The way his father had tended him, the way he would have tended a plague victim. It had never been the same between them again. He had tried for the cloth. Social reform hahahaha. All delusion. He had been a mountebank, a clown…and worse. He had slaughtered for something in which not even he believed. They left his mind wide open, and his thoughts stumbled…raced further and further toward the thought of

!EXPLOSION!IN!HIS!MIND!

He fell face forward on the smooth and polished metal pavement, but he never touched. Something arrested his fall, and he hung suspended, bent over at the waist like a ridiculous Punch divested of strings or manipulation from above. A whiff of something invisible, and he was in full possession of his senses almost before they had left him. His mind was forced to look at it:

He wants to fuck the Reverend Mr. Barnett’s wife.

Henrietta, with her pious petition to Queen Victoria—”Madam, we, the women of East London, feel horror at the dreadful sins that have been lately committed in our midst…”—asking for the capture of himself, of Jack, whom she would never, not ever suspect was residing right there with her and the Reverend in Toynbee Hall. The thought was laid as naked as her body in the secret dreams he had never remembered upon awakening. All of it, they had left him with opened doors, with unbounded horizons, and he saw himself for what he was.

A psychopath, a butcher, a lecher, a hypocrite, a clown.

“You did this to me! Why did you do this?”

Frenzy cloaked his words. The flower-faces became the solidified hedonists who had taken him back to 1888 on that senseless voyage of slaughter.

Van Cleef, the gardenia-woman, sneered. “Why do you think, you ridiculous bumpkin? (Bumpkin, is that the right colloquialism, Hernon? I’m so uncertain in the mid-dialects.) When you’d done in Juliette, Hernon wanted to send you back. But why should he? He owed us at least three formz, and you did passing well for one of them.”

Jack shouted at them till the cords stood out in his throat. “Was it necessary, this last one? Was it important to do it, to help my reforms…was it?”

Hernon laughed. “Of course not.”

Jack sank to his knees. The City let him do it. “Oh God, oh God almighty, I’ve done what I’ve done…I’m covered with blood…and for nothing, for nothing…

Cashio, who had been one of the phlox, seemed puzzled. “Why is he concerned about this one, if the others don’t bother him?”

Nosy Verlag, who had been a wild celandine, said sharply, “They do, all of them do. Probe him, you’ll see.”

Cashio’s eyes rolled up in his head an instant, then rolled down and refocused—Jack felt a quicksilver shudder in his mind and it was gone—and he said lackadaisically, “Mm-hmm.”

Jack fumbled with the latch of the Gladstone. He opened the bag and pulled out the foetus in the bottle. Mary Jane Kelly’s unborn child, from November 9th, 1888. He held it in front of his face a moment, then dashed it to the metal pavement. It never struck. It vanished a fraction of an inch from the clean, sterile surface of the City’s street.

“What marvelous loathing!” exulted Rose, who had been a rose.

“Hernon,” said van Cleef, “he’s centering on you. He begins to blame you for all of this.”

Hernon was laughing (without moving his lips) as Jack pulled Juliette’s electrical scalpel from the Gladstone, and lunged. Jack’s words were incoherent, but what he was saying, as he struck, was: “I’ll show you what filth you are! I’ll show you you can’t do this kind of thing! I’ll teach you! You’ll die, all of you!” This is what he was saying, but it came out as one long sustained bray of revenge, frustration, hatred and directed frenzy.

Hernon was still laughing as Jack drove the whisper-thin blade with its shimmering current into his chest. Almost without manipulation on Jack’s part, the blade circumscribed a perfect 360° hole that charred and shriveled, exposing Hernon’s pulsing heart and wet organs. He had time to shriek with confusion before he received Jack’s second thrust, a direct lunge that severed the heart from its attachments. Vena cava superior. Aorta. Arteria pullmonalis. Bronchus principalis.

The heart flopped forward and a spreading wedge of blood under tremendous pressure ejaculated, spraying Jack with such force that it knocked his hat from his head and blinded him. His face was now a dripping black-red collage of features and blood.

Hernon followed his heart, and fell forward, into Jack’s arms. Then the flower-people screamed as one, vanished, and Hernon’s body slipped from Jack’s hands to wink out of existence an instant before it struck at Jack’s feet. The walls around him were clean, unspotted, sterile, metallic, uncaring.

He stood in the street, holding the bloody knife.

“Now!” he screamed, holding the knife aloft. “Now it begins!”

If the city heard, it made no indication, but

[Pressure accelerated in temporal linkages.]

[A section of shining wall on a building eighty miles away changed from silver to rust.]

[In the freezer chambers, two hundred gelatin caps were fed into a ready trough.]

[The weathermaker spoke softly to itself, accepted data and instantly constructed an intangible mnemonic Circuit.]

and in the shining eternal city where night only fell when the inhabitants had need of night and called specifically for night…

Night fell. With no warning save: Now!

In the City of sterile loveliness a creature of filth and decaying flesh prowled. In the last City of the world, a City on the edge of the world, where the ones who had devised their own paradise lived, the prowler made his home in shadows. Slipping from darkness to darkness with eyes that saw only movement, he roamed in search of a partner to dance his deadly rigadoon.

He found the first woman as she materialized beside a small waterfall that flowed out of empty air and dropped its shimmering, tinkling moisture into an azure cube of nameless material. He found her and drove the living blade into the back of her neck. Then he sliced out the eyeballs and put them into her open hands.

He found the second woman in one of the towers, making love to a very old man who gasped and wheezed and clutched his heart as the young woman forced him to passion. She was killing him as Jack killed her. He drove the living blade into the lower rounded surface of her belly, piercing her sex organs as she rode astride the old man. She decamped blood and viscous fluids over the prostrate body of the old man, who also died, for Jack’s blade had severed the penis within the young woman. She fell forward across the old man and Jack left them that way, joined in the final embrace.

He found a man and throttled him with his bare hands, even as the man tried to dematerialize. Then Jack recognized him as one of the phlox, and made neat incisions in the face, into which he inserted the man’s genitals.

He found another woman as she was singing a gentle song about eggs to a group of children. He opened her throat and severed the strings hanging inside. He let the vocal cords drop onto her chest. But he did not touch the children, who watched it all avidly. He liked children.

He prowled through the unending night making a grotesque collection of hearts, which he cut out of one, three, nine people. And when he had a dozen, he took them and laid them as road markers on one of the wide boulevards that never were used by vehicles, for the people of this City had no need of vehicles.

Oddly, the City did not clean up the hearts. Nor were the people vanishing any longer. He was able to move with relative impunity, hiding only when he saw large groups that might be searching for him. But something was happening in the City. (Once, he heard the peculiar sound of metal grating on metal, the shrikkk of plastic cutting into plastic—though he could not have identified it as plastic—and he instinctively knew it was the sound of a machine malfunctioning.)

He found a woman bathing, and tied her up with strips of his own garments, and cut off her legs at the knees and left her still sitting up in the swirling crimson bath, screaming as she bled away her life. The legs he took with him.

When he found a man hurrying to get out of the night, he pounced on him, cut his throat and sawed off the arms. He replaced the arms with the bath-woman’s legs.

And it went on and on, for a time that had no measure. He was showing them what evil could produce. He was showing them their immorality was silly beside his own.

But one thing finally told him he was winning. As he lurked in an antiseptically pure space between two low aluminum-cubes, he heard a voice that came from above him and around him and even from inside him. It was a public announcement, broadcast by whatever mental communications system the people of the City on the edge of the World used.

OUR CITY IS PART OF US, WE ARE PART OF OUR CITY. IT RESPONDS TO OUR MINDS AND WE CONTROL IT. THE GESTALT THAT WE HAVE BECOME IS THREATENED. WE HAVE AN ALIEN FORCE WITHIN THE CITY AND WE ARE GEARING TO LOCATE IT. BUT THE MIND OF THIS MAN IS STRONG. IT IS BREAKING DOWN THE FUNCTIONS OF THE CITY. THIS ENDLESS NIGHT IS AN EXAMPLE. WE MUST ALL CONCENTRATE. WE MUST ALL CONSCIOUSLY FOCUS OUR THOUGHTS TO MAINTAINING THE CITY. THIS THREAT IS OF THE FIRST ORDER. IF OUR CITY DIES, WE WILL DIE.

It was not an announcement in those terms, though that was how Jack interpreted it. The message was much longer and much more complex, but that was what it meant, and he knew he was winning. He was destroying them. Social reform was laughable, they had said. He would show them.

And so he continued with his lunatic pogrom. He butchered and slaughtered and carved them wherever he found them, and they could not vanish and they could not escape and they could not stop him. The collection of hearts grew to fifty and seventy and then a hundred.

He grew bored with hearts and began cutting out their brains. The collection grew.

For numberless days it went on, and from time to time in the clean, scented autoclave of the City, he could hear the sounds of screaming. His hands were always sticky.

Then he found van Cleef, and leaped from hiding in the darkness to bring her down. He raised the living blade to drive it into her breast, but she vanished.

He got to his feet and looked around. Van Cleef reappeared ten feet from him. He lunged for her and again she was gone. To reappear ten feet away. Finally, when he had struck at her half a dozen times and she had escaped him each time, he stood panting, arms at sides, looking at her.

And she looked back at him with disinterest.

“You no longer amuse us,” she said, moving her lips.

Amuse? His mind whirled down into a place far darker than any he had known before, and through the murk of his blood-lust be began to realize. It had all been for their amusement. They had let him do it. They had given him the run of the City and he had capered and gibbered for them.

Evil? He had never even suspected the horizons of that word. He went for her, but she disappeared with finality.

He was left standing there as the daylight returned. As the City cleaned up the mess, took the butchered bodies and did with them what it had to do. In the freezer chambers the gelatin caps were returned to their niches, no more inhabitants of the City need be thawed to provide Jack the Ripper with utensils for his amusement of the sybarites. His work was truly finished.

He stood there in the empty street. A street that would always be empty to him. The people of the City had all along been able to escape him, and now they would. He was finally and completely the clown they had shown him to be. He was not evil, he was pathetic.

He tried to use the living blade on himself, but it dissolved into motes of light and wafted away on a breeze that had blown up for just that purpose.

Alone, he stood there staring at the victorious cleanliness of this Utopia. With their talents they would keep him alive, possibly alive forever, immortal in the possible expectation of needing him for amusement again someday. He was stripped to raw essentials in a mind that was no longer anything more than jelly matter. To go madder and madder, and never to know peace or end or sleep.

He stood there, a creature of dirt and alleys, in a world as pure as the first breath of a baby.

“My name isn’t Jack,” he said softly. But they would never know his real name. Nor would they care. My name isn’t Jack!” he said loudly. No one heard.

“MY NAME ISN’T JACK, AND I’VE BEEN BAD, VERY BAD, I’M AN EVIL PERSON BUT MY NAME ISN’T JACK!” he screamed, and screamed, and screamed again, walking aimlessly down an empty street, in plain view, no longer forced to prowl. A stranger in the City.