Well, with the internet being so nice to Jon Green this month, he decided to be nice back to the internet. You should be grateful; you wouldn't want him to change his mind and show the internet the back of his hand...
You may remember our little featurette, A Very Abaddon Christmas, which we ran last December, in which various of our authors wrote little snippets for the blog. Well, I was going to do it again this year, but the December deadlines have just been quite a headache this year (just got the last proofs off to the printer this morning), so we just didn't have the time. So, I thought, what the hey? You don't miss what you didn't know you could have had.
Except for Jon, it seems. Who loves you so much he put together a free story for you guys without my asking. Because that's the kind of guy he is. Just keeps on givin'.
(It's actually a snippet of one of his bonus stories, the novella Favoured Son, which should be appearing in the back of Anno Frankenstein. Just to give you a taster of what's coming.)
Therefore, and with no further ado, I present to you:
'TWAS THE DARK KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
By Jonathan Green
'TWAS THE DARK KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
By Jonathan Green
Cratchit knew that he had gone too far when he looked down and saw the whore’s blood staining his palms Whitechapel Red, but by then it was too late to do anything about it. It had been her own bloody stupid fault – she shouldn’t have kept screaming like that. What else had she thought would happen if she carried on like that, the silly little tart? And she wasn’t screaming now, was she?
Cratchit looked at the body cooling on the cobbles at his feet. The girl’s legs looked all wrong at that angle, hobnail boots lying in the blood-pink snow as if she had been frozen in the act of running, whilst lying on the ground.
He felt hot, despite the biting cold.
Suddenly remembering himself, blushing as he became coldly aware of his current condition in the adrenalin come down that always followed the act, he hastily tucked himself in and buttoned up his fly. There was blood on his clothes now too. So much blood. But then what had the tease expected, carrying on like that, prancing around the place with her basket of lavender and her innocent cherubic face. Ironic then that she had told him her name was Holly.
The basket lay tumbled nearby, the dried purple blooms sticky with blood.
Hearing a distant shout – muffled by the falling snow – he started, head up, taut as a ratting terrier on the trail of fresh meat.
But nothing came of it. He was still alone in the street; alone, except for the flower-seller’s cooling corpse.
Still it wouldn’t do for anyone else to find him here, like this, even if the little tart had been asking for it, with her rosy cheeks and pouting rosy lips. She had deserved all she had got.
Backing away from the body, he finally managed to tear his eyes from the blood staining the fresh snowfall, turned tail and ran.
The falling snow muffled his pounding footfalls as he fled the scene, making for the river. As he passed through the pool of dirty yellow light cast by a forlorn streetlamp, he glanced down and caught sight of his blood-stained clothes again. The girl’s blood was still on his hands too, glistening blackly in the flickering gas-light.
Thankfully no-one else was out on the streets to see. Even the carol-singers had given up and gone home for the night. The greedy little tart should have done the same, if she’d known what was good for her, rather than trying to get rid of the rest of the basket of posies, to save herself from her father’s belt, no doubt. She’d probably deserved that too.
Somewhere across town a church clock chimed the hour.
She had been lucky really. He’d done her a favour. One of her tender years, staying out after curfew like that? She could have run into much worse than him.
It was then that he caught the shrill peeping of a Peeler’s whistle.
Ducking into an alleyway – that swallowed him up like a crumbling stone oesophagus – he stopped, doubled up with his hands on his knees, as he gasped for breath. He stared at the fractal patterns the settling flakes made on the mud-ingrained cobbles but all he could see were the girl’s sky blue eyes staring back at him, almost popping out of her head with panic, fearful tears running into her hair as he clamped a callused hand over her mouth to silence her screams.
But at least there had been no one else there to witness him giving her what for. It would remain his little secret.
The twenty-fifth of December might still be some days away, but Christmas had come early for Cratchit. He’d had his present early this year.
A gust of wind sent the gently falling flakes whirling as something swept past overhead.
Cratchit raised his head, alert to every possible danger. He could hear nothing, nothing but the soft flutter of the snow coming to ground. He took a cautious step further along the alleyway, the crunch of settling snow under his boots sounding uncomfortably loud in the muffled stillness of the night.
Feeling the prickle of another’s eyes upon him between his shoulder blades he spun round. He glimpsed a flicker of movement, the absence of something having been there a split second before; a black void in the disturbed snow’s fall.
But whatever it was had left its mark; two hoof-prints in the snow.
Cratchit’s black heart was thumping in his chest now, a fresh rush of adrenalin coursing through his weary body.
There was the whoosh of movement. Cratchit snapped his head back, looking up at the crumbling walls of the crowding tenements above him.
Again there was nothing there, nothing other than for the same bat-shaped shadow in the swirling snow.
Suddenly losing all control of both mind and body, as panic took hold, he took off, skidding and sliding over the slush-slick cobbles, his breath coming in ragged, whimpering gasps.
Desperate feet suddenly slipping from under him – one going one way and one the other – in one heart-stopping moment he found himself sprawling in the snow and the muck clogging the rat-run. The fall knocked the air out of his lungs.
With a reverberating thud, something landed on the cobbles in front of him.
Eyes wide with fear, he was nonetheless unable to fight the almost hypnotic urge to see what it was that he knew was hunting him.
And it was then that Cratchit came face to face with the Devil himself.
Its hide was black and leathery, its hands cruel claws, its eyes glowing red coals of malevolence in the darkness. It strode towards him, folding its great black wings behind it, sulphurous smoke snorting from flaring nostrils.
The fiend bent down and, grabbing Cratchit by his jacket, hauled him effortlessly off the ground.
Unable to tear his gaze away, unable even to blink, Cratchit met the Devil’s bloody stare. Hanging in the monster’s powerful grip, the toe-caps of his boots barely brushed the drifts of disturbed snow. The Devil’s brimstone breath caught in the back of his throat, making him cough and his eyes run with tears.
“Wh-Wh-Wh…” Cratchit stammered, his tongue suddenly sluggish within his mouth, unable to even form even the simplest words.
“Who am I?” the fiend growled, its voice a disharmonic, electro-static rumble. “They call me Jack.”
“J-Jack?” Cratchit whimpered. “N-Not Old Nick?” he spluttered. “You’re not the Devil then?”
“No,” the creature snarled. “But you’re going to wish I was. I’m something much worse.”
Cratchit pissed himself at that.
“Wh-Wh-What do you want with me?” he snivelled, the tears streaming down his face now born of fear.
“Vengeance,” the night-gaunt barked. “Retribution. Satisfaction.”
At that the burly thug broke down completely.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed, the words suddenly pouring out of him like a confession. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to… I mean, I… I didn’t…”
“Too late,” the monster growled.
There was a sudden demonic roar as hellfire erupted all around them.
In the next moment, Cratchit felt the rush of motion as the demon unfurled its dragon wings and carried them both skyward. They left the dark streets and the twinkling lights of the city far below them, hurtling through the blizzard, snowflakes evaporating in the wake of the fiend’s fiery passage. Cratchit clung onto the beast, his eyes closed, mouth open wide in a silent scream.
And then suddenly their careering ascent came to an abrupt stop, so suddenly, in fact, that Cratchit opened his eyes again in shock, meeting the hellish bat-creature’s inferno stare.
Before he could shape a question, the thing that called itself Jack, spoke again.
“This is where you get off.”
Twisting within the creature’s tight grasp, he tried to look down, fear of what was about to befall him overcoming any fear of heights he might have.
Surely the fiend wasn’t really about to drop him. This was just a test, to scare him into repenting of his evil ways. Wasn’t it?
“We’re about a thousand feet up. I reckon it should take you about ten seconds to reach the ground again,” the monster declared, something like a disharmonic laugh twisting its words. The demon was clearly relishing tormenting its prisoner. “Plenty of time for you to think on what you’ve done and ask for absolution from your Maker before impact.”
Surely this was all just some kind of sick joke. Surely…
“Oh, and Happy Christmas.”
With that, the fiend let go.
His final scream was ripped from his lungs by the rushing air. And then the time for prayers was past.
From the heart of the whirling snowstorm, the devil known as Spring-Heeled Jack watched with blazing eyes, savouring the moment of retribution. And then he, too, was gone.