Nocturnal & Nameless
London nights are never truly quiet. Stillness is a myth in cities such as this. Even after the bars and buslines have closed, nightwalkers find a way to pass the time. One couple kisses in the shadows of the cobbled stone courtyard. They don’t think about how Jack the Ripper once killed alongside these very roads. Or perhaps they do.
A dull flicker of candlelight emanates from the blackened window of a tattoo parlor. It’s half past two. She’s still working. The flesh has gone home, yet the piercer leaves no path unexplored when finding the perfect solution for a client’s anatomy. Her room at the back of the shop is painted black with skeletons and antique charts of the human body. Horrifying, to the bible thumpers who cross themselves as they scurry past the sinister storefront.
The candlelight flares, then vanishes. I straighten from where I’ve stooped against the stone archway across the street. The door creaks open, and there she is. She’s dressed in her customary black, chains tinkling at her hips, black-stained lips pursed as she concentrates on locking up. She hasn’t even looked around. With all the murders in Whitechapel of late, she should at least check the street before she turns and strides into the night.
It would be so easy, I think, a smirk on my lips. I could be on her in a second, pressing a pristine blade to that slender neck. My feet are moving, following her around the corner, down the unlit alley, to the next street. My hands twitch with anticipation.
Death is easy.
She’ll know soon enough.
As the distance between us vanishes, I spot the brick red buds in her ears, a tinny rhythm accompanying the sound of those chains shifting against her pelvis. I strain to catch who it might be—Fields of the Nephilim, most likely, or Dead Can Dance—but my shadow crosses hers in the headlights of a passing car. My hand, centimeters from those daring chains, retracts as she turns.
“Jesus,” she hisses, pulling her elbow back before it could strike me in the gut. “Jack, what the fuck, man.” She yanks the buds from her well-pierced ears: Danse Macabre, I notice.
She’s catching her breath as I change tact. I lift my eyebrows and peer down my nose in the way that makes her snicker. It works. “You ought to be more aware of your surroundings, Miss Ivy. The hour is late, and the fourth murder happened just three nights ago.”
“Calm down, professor. I’ve been taking a combat hapkido class.” Ivy gestures to my chin with fingernails polished the color of midnight. “How’s the new lip piercing feeling?”
I jut out my jaw. The bead below my bottom lip glints in the amber lamplight. “Not bad. My check-up with you is scheduled for next week.”
“Good,” says Ivy. She turns to continue her walk.
In two long strides, I’m at her side. The smell of her dragon’s blood perfume wafts up to meet my nostrils, a decadent ode to her personality. Her teased black hair brushes my shoulder. The window for surprise has passed, but I know it won’t be my last chance. She keeps doing this. The late nights working. The solitary walks home. I imagine the look on her face when I finally get my moment. I relish it. The betrayal makes it sweeter.
“So when are you going to take one of my Jack the Ripper walking tours?”
Ivy shakes her head, bemused. “You know I’m working when you parade your group past my shop every evening.” She tilts her head. The burn of curiosity flickers across her expression. “What’s your take on this Ripper copycat?”
Cut throats. Carefully disemboweled corpses. Four. All in Whitechapel. All leading to a surge in the popularity of my walking tour. I nearly rub my hands together as satisfaction courses through me. “He’s good.”
“‘Good’?” Ivy echoes.
I nod. “He’s meticulous. Mimicking the Ripper’s victims precisely as they appeared in the press in the nineteenth century. His same intimate familiarity with the human body, almost like a surgeon.” We cross into the park. Spidery tree limbs block the streetlamps and cast intricate shadows across the exposed flesh of her neck. “It’s impressive.”
“‘Impressive,'” says Ivy in a pensive tone. “You sound like you admire this killer.”
I shrug. “In a way, I do. Just as I admire the original Jack the Ripper. I wouldn’t do these tours if I didn’t. You know, we never even got to know who he was in the end. The Ripper vanished. Like smoke.”
The deafening screech of a fox splits open the night. We jump, tense, my eyes darting about before I process the sound. “Bullocks,” Ivy breathes. “Those little buggers get me every time.
Our stammered steps soon regain their surety. The park melts into the background of my awareness again as I hone into her movements. Her long strides. The immobility of her backcombed hair. The bird skull pendant that bounces at her partially-exposed breasts…
“I wonder how he chooses his victims,” I hear myself say. With great effort, I pull my gaze away from her chest. “He opens their torsos and removes their entrails…it’s intimate. He doesn’t just cut their throat and leave them to bleed. How does someone decide who to murder so sensually?”
Ivy ponders this. Her black lips quirk as she thinks. If she saw me staring, she doesn’t give it away. Her face sinks into the darkness between pools of streetlight, and I think back to my plan to catch her unawares. It would be so easy, in this abandoned park, where no one but the foxes would know. London never sleeps. But in the deepest, darkest parts of the night, anyone would pass her screams off as just another fox…
“I suppose he must have known his victims,” Ivy muses as we step into the glow of the next lamp. “Perhaps he desired them in some way. Bemoaned that he could not have them. Or, maybe, maybe they reminded him of someone who had wronged him.” Her voice is breathless now, like she’s contracted my fascination with the Ripper copycat. I see her eyes flash with something that reminds me of my own morbid obsessions.
“That’s what I think,” I say, latching onto her intrigue like a leach. “Something about his victims reminded him of someone who had hurt him somehow. Something so terrible that he felt justified in taking their lives.”
Ivy hums in agreement. Her neck vibrates as she does this, the choker there fluttering slightly. I wonder what it will be like to close my hands over that neck. To squeeze. I want to drag the disbelief from her as she finally identifies her attacker. I want to see the fear seep the life from her eyes. That fear that gets me high. But the time is not yet right. Tonight, I play the gentleman walking her home.
The park slips into the night. The pavement now carries us alongside the main road. One car meanders past the darkened storefronts. A few still-burning neon signs warp in its windows. The hum of its engine fades from the late night symphony, and Ivy stops. Her eyebrows furrow. Her eyes glaze as she looks across the street. The tinkling of her chains falls quiet.
She just stares.
But she doesn’t move.
“Ivy?” I say again.
This time, she stirs as though rousing herself from deep slumber. In the distance, Big Ben chimes three, audible only in the relative quiet of night. “He targeted prostitutes, mainly,” she says, her voice now oddly toneless. Then she blinks and looks at me, those two-toned hazel eyes locking onto mine. She smirks, the flatness gone as she adds, “Judgmental prick.”
My laughter mingles with her throaty chuckle. Taut skin undulates beneath her choker. We stand there, gazing at a street corner, and it dawns on me. “This is where the first victim was found.”
Ivy nods a slow and knowing affirmation. Those smokey eyelids flutter, and it reminds me of when she looked at my lip at the tattoo parlor to ensure the piercing would suit the shape of my mouth. Like she’s seeing something that isn’t there. And I wonder if she’s trying to picture the first body. The news had shown the two images side by side more times than I could count: vaguely illustrated representations of the original and recent murder victims posed in precisely the same way. RIPPER COPYCAT MURDER, the headlines declared.
I would prefer the news to just show the dead bodies.
“This one is more clever,” she muses. “No discernable pattern in the victims. Women, men, multiple ethnicities…maybe this one will evade police capture, too.”
A wicked grin eases across my face. “Clever, eh?” I can see each victim’s face clearly, hovering before me like they’ve done each night as I prowl these London streets. The press had used social media profiles or ID portraits, their innocent faces beaming just weeks or months before their demise. And she’s right: two white, one Black, one Asian. Two men, two women. Nothing in common but their paths taking them to Whitechapel, their doom.
I turn to Ivy, still smirking. “Let’s go over there.”
Ivy startles. Just as I knew she would. “To where the person died?” she says in a strangled voice.
My nod is self-assured, confident this will unsettle her, put her off her guard. Perhaps tonight will be the night… I take her by the arm and pull her across the deserted road. She protests, resists, but my grip is vice-like. Our feet soon find the faded bloodstain still traced in the concrete. A single vigil candle nestles against the closest building. The flame had long since blown out.
As though the city knows the boundaries we have crossed, the breeze dies down. No cars dare disturb the stillness. No pedestrians pass. It’s just us. And the splattered remains of violence that could not quite be scrubbed clean.
I can hardly breathe. “Do you feel it?”
She’s gone limp in my grip, and I release her. She does not move. Her eyes know nothing but the pavement. She crouches down. Her back is to me. The hairs on my arms erect, a salute to the scent of victory. She’s reaching those long, slender fingers to brush the death-kissed concrete. My eyes scan the empty street once, twice, then return to Ivy as she caresses the ground. Her shirt has lifted. Skeletons dance across the skin of her back. Bones. Greek. In delicate shadow, muscles embrace. Inkwork surely done by the most skilled of her colleagues. I envy the man who got to make that flesh bleed.
“I feel…” she says, her voice a strained whisper. “Cold.”
This deep into October, a chill has settled into London’s jagged crevices. Yet she doesn’t shiver within the fitted confines of her cropped leather jacket. I consider her word choice. The metaphor throws me. My skin tingles with the hot rush of danger, of attraction, of a power she can’t possibly fathom. But…cold?
She lifts herself upright with a swift, slicing grace. I almost step back, startled by her sudden proximity. “You know,” she says, and her breath is icy on my neck. The lamplight outlines her from behind, her skin and black clothes fading into shadow. A crazy-haired reaper stands before me. “My great-grandfather resented the world for never understanding. All that work, all that delicate, precise passion, and they name him Jack?” Ivy snorts. “Pathetic.”
I do step back then. My shoulder strikes the caged entrance of the closest shop. It rattles ominously, unheard as blood rushes through my ears. The heat of my pending attack drains from me, urine wetting the bloodstain of another’s crime.
“You claim no one could replicate his efforts today and not get caught. ‘Science makes fools of us all.’ Yes, I’ve heard your speech. You think you’re some expert, but you know nothing.” Her voice has lost its sweetness, that lilt that made her so adorable despite her alternative appearance. The body that seemed so sensual now looks primed. Primal.
I see a gleam. A flash of silver. My eyes dart to the blade in her hand. She clutches it reverently, and I am forcibly reminded of the knife collection housed on the wall of her piercing room. Antique scalpels and needles collected from oddity shops…or family heirlooms? I blink. I think of the taxidermy rat hanging beside her door. Of the outdated maps of human anatomy preserved from the turn of the century. Her pride and joy. And now I know why.
“You want to know what they all had in common, don’t you?” she says so casually that it takes me a moment to realize she’s talking about the victims. Her victims. The flippancy drips easily from her lips. Those black lips lost in shadow. The glimmering dagger meets my throat in one achingly slow gesture. She drags it across my skin, playfully at first, then with enough pressure to draw blood. She leans in, all perfume and power, and whispers, “They all went on your pitiful little tour.”
With one, clean swipe, she opens my throat to the night air. My blood mingles with the first victim’s on the pavement, drenching the lone candle in crimson.
“Death awaits, you slanderous pig.”
Her knife plunges into my gut. I see it. But I don’t feel it.
I am cold.
María Badillo’s award-winning writing has been featured in Lingering in the Margins, Style Weekly Magazine, Paranormal Daily, Ravine Literary Magazine, and more. Badillo is an Affiliate Writer member of the Horror Writers Association and author of In Her Bones dark poetry chapbook.