A Contemporary Fantasy Story: The Standard

East End factory in the Victorian Age. Cartoon by Joseph Pennell.
East End factory in the Victorian Age. Cartoon by Joseph Pennell.

At the Crime Scene

The room was quiet, swirls of dust dancing to the inaudible waltz that filled the bare chamber. There was a bed, neatly put together, stiff starched creases along the edge of the sheets, as if no one had slept in it for many years. There was a night stand, a single flickering candle on top, its low glow illuminating the room just enough to see each dark cobwebbed corner. But most striking was the old warn desk, a single chair sitting parallel to the large window overlooking the mist strewn street below. In the chair sat a figure, lifeless, hunched over his desk, a bottle of nearly empty bourbon still wrapped tightly in his grip. Scotland Yard’s finest scrambled around the body, examining what was initially deemed a crime scene. Still, as the investigators got further along in their examination it was becoming all to clear that no crime was committed. Instead there was only a pathetic old man, his bottle in his hand, and his dying words scribbled on pieces of parchment paper sprawled out across his desk, cascading down to the nearby floor.

In the doorway, a young man, well dressed, a pair of spectacles hanging loosely on his nose, waited, a tablet wrapped tightly in his frightened and uncomfortable arms. The officer in charge of the investigation barely noticed the squeamish youngster; in fact, if it wasn’t for his timid temperament, Scotland Yard would have had come and gone without ever noticing the young man standing bewildered in the open doorway.

“This is a crime scene me boy! How did ya get yerself up here?” The officer sported an all-too bushy mustache, red tufts nearly covering his mouth before turning sharply south at its corners. It was obvious from his accent, pale features, and bronzed hair coloring that the burly officer was not from the Queen’s city – probably from Ireland or Scotland, some other part of her majesty’s Kingdom.

“Do accept my apologies sir, I mean no harm to your investigation. He…Here,” the shaken man stumbled over his words as he uneasily reached his frail hand toward the officer, “My name is Aldous Crawford III, grandson of THE Aldous Crawford.”

Aldous Crawford was a renowned Newspaper owner, who single-handedly founded the Standard Printing Company, a London staple for the last half century. Young Crawford used the name like a badge of honour. He alone was pathetic and weak, yet with his families great heritage he felt somewhat more important, as if his words and actions could possibly be equivalent to the prophets of the Good book.

The officer accepted the handshake, firmly squeezing the young man’s hand forcing Aldous to wince, “Aye, ye must be the Newspaper fella we were told was comin’. Yer Late! Hop to it boy, can ye identify this poor sod?”

Aldous leaned in, being careful to keep his distance. Death terrified him greatly. Still it was unmistakable, this was the Senior Editor. It was quite a feel good story actually. Born on the east end, the young editor had made a living as a paper salesman, crying out on soot covered street corners day in and day out. Eventually he made enough to educate himself and was hired by the Standard soon after. He had worked with the paper for many years, yet as a recluse, not many knew even his name.

“Yes, my good man,” The young man removed his cap and placed it on his heart. “This is our dearest Senior Editor. I am at a lapse in memory over his name, but I assure you this is him.” Aldous’s eyes caught the sheets of parchment that were lying across the desk and floor. “Have you read what is in these letters here?”

“Nay, man’s dead, doesn’t matter what they say. I’m sure you paper folk would love to get yer hands on ‘dem. Take em’ boy.” The officer turned and returned to his work, done with the all-too haughty journalist.

Collecting the parchments, Aldous put them into order and started reading:

Newspaper boys in 1888 London.
Newspaper boys in 1888 London.

A Dead Man's Birth

Dear Old Friend,

The Standard

December 25th 1874

London East End:

RENOWN LURK HUNTER FOUND DEAD!

I remember the headline well. It was whispered throughout the East End of London. No one could find an answer for how such a fearless man could meet such a quiet demise; the hunter who wore his tattered trench coat, his dusty wide brimmed hat, an eye patch to cover his left eye. The hunter who faced the restless whines of a destitute city, not afraid to skulk amongst the filth saturated shadows. You were a man who was willing to brave the demons that lurked behind the walls, in the attics, and beneath the floor boards of the dying city. Yet on Christmas Eve you passed quietly into a slumber and never woke again. No epic battle, no fatal wound, no virtuous act of heroism – just silence.

I stood on the corner of a nameless street in the Docklands. My eyes sunk at the sight of the great St. Katherine’s dock. People dressed in drab attire, dirt engrained in their finger nails, faces that dreaded returning home to their packed and unsanitary slums. You often said that Lurks fed off the misery that surrounded the ill conditions of the dead city’s poorest districts, that fear and sorrow attracted them to infest the walls of a building. For you, business must have been good. There was no shortage of misery in the East End of the Queen’s City.

I also avoided suffering a lack of business. In the borough of Tower Hamlets, denizens searched for comfort in the news; found that if they were able to relate to the hardship and despair that wept upon every page of the black and white paper, they were able to find some joy in the somewhat better conditions of their own lives. It was bollocks. I knew this. The stories that were told within the folded sheets of paper were no different than the stories that the dark eyes and strained muscles of dockworkers tells; that a mother wearing a week old dress, dragging a line of five emaciated and pale children tells. Though they believed they were reading about harder lives, the stories were their lives. Stories that richer and better off readers sighed and shook their heads to, proclaiming the injustice but refusing to leave their mansions and expensive cafes to lend their hands. Still, I stand upon this corner, my hands waving the paper in the air, my voice howling loudly the papers shocking headline – no shortage of miserable people wanting to read about the miserable lives of others.

“It’s Animalistic!” you used to argue, as you leaned your head in close to watch the Lurks in our city’s walls battle it out, their claws scratching the inside of our walls noisily. “In the face of their termination all these fiends can do is kill each other, I say it is madness my good man!”

“Animalistic!” I would agree eagerly as I read the articles in the paper before returning to work in the morning. I frequent the corner of Thomas More Street or outside of the Executioners Docks, where less than a century ago men and women gathered to shout profanities and cheer on the hanging of criminals. What really has changed?

You were a hero, a man’s man, a man of the people; I always trusted your judgment and listened with disgust to the creeks in the floor boards and moans in the attic – to the sounds I have become so accustomed to in the East End necropolis. Day in and day out I stood on these corners crying out to the melancholy faces of Londoners; A child begging for food outside of a church; A drunk throwing another man out of the nearest Pub’s window; ship owners scoffing at a sick man dying in the middle of an alleyway. These are the people I sell to; the people who are shocked that an affluent man like the Lurk Hunter, like you, died such a monotonous and normal death.

“How much are your papers my young chap?” An aging gentleman in tan slacks and suspenders inquired with a well articulated accent, rifling through his wallet for a coin.

I hesitated to answer, embarrassed by my heavy Cockney dialect, not willing to reserve myself to a specific station in life. Who is to say that this gentleman is any better than I am just because I speak differently? Still, I must swallow my pride and sell, for despite my dislike of the system, of humanities compassionless disposure, I must make a living. Like you my friend, who sank into the rubbish of our impoverished city, who braved the hell fiends with only God at his side, we both endured displeasure to make a livelihood.

“Awright me bloke, I need to make the Bread and Honey. That will be two Thomas Tillins' me Ol’ Pot and Pan.”

“I say my boy, have some class.”

“Pay the dosh me Ol’ geezer. I don’t ‘ave all day!”

“A true peasant you are; Filthy boy. Take the shillings. I pray the Lord castes those demons from your soul.”

His judgment angered me greatly. I handed him the paper and proceeded to spit, my phlegm landing an inch short of his fine shoes. He shook his head in disgust and thundered away from me, mumbling obscenities underneath his breathe. This was London. This was the capital of an Empire; crown Jewel of western society; the center of the civilized world. Though we are a nation that stretches from the fields of Ireland to the land of the cannibals along the Ivory Coast, I did not feel that I was part of this place. I felt no safer standing on this street corner than I would feel standing before the tribes of savages chronicled in the newspaper. At least they only devour the meat of rival tribes. Here, one Londoner devours the next, worrying only about establishing himself.

The sun was rapidly fading, the December chill chasing it away, leaving thin layers of snow upon the city street. As I pulled my coat tighter, a cloud of breath floating in front of my face, I imagined the snow was ash, like the soot that covers the factory workers parading home at sun down. Was the city burning? I secretly wished it would. Wished this damned city would smolder in the pits of hell and free these mindless hardworking people from their plight.

The crowd had gently calmed, dock workers finding just a moments rest in their homes. I had made a killing. Nearly two hundred comfort seekers having wasted their slim hard earned earnings on the papers at my feet. I shrugged off the guilt, ignoring the taste it left in my mouth and stone that rested at the depths of my stomach. I was among the worst of this city’s transgressions.

Resolving to abandon my remaining wares, I stalked off into the slums, ready to eat, sleep, and prepare for the next day’s work. Though, as hard as I tried, I could not ignore the feeling in my gut. I needed answers; why after all my praise and loyalty had you died? You were Achilles, a man who stood before the odds, stood before our people’s greatest foes. You were to die with sword in hand. Not like this. Not so quietly. Why?

I walked quietly in the glow of sunset, my feet tapping inaudibly upon the filthy cobble stone pathway of Cannon Street Road. My eyes stared upwards at the towering cantons of the St. George of the East Anglican Church. Though it was meant to shine brightly, its white colored walls acting as a beacon of purity in a bleak grey city, I was unable to decipher its charcoal stained stone from the dirt-strewn streets I walked upon. Are we like the church, beauty hidden behind the veil of ash that covers us, or once steeped in the charcoal do we become no more than shells of filth?

I stopped in front of a dark empty home. Though it stands out as a treasure amongst the shit covered homes and tenement houses of the East End, it feels somehow less habitable. It is large, windows marking at least twelve rooms, dirt covered bricks trying to remain red. There is no light shining from within, no flowers on the stoop, no colorful faces jumping from window to window. No, instead it rests more like a coffin, a tomb awaiting some nameless body.

I fought of my consternation and moved toward it, ignoring the creaks and whines that came from the crypt. I had to see; had to know how he lived. I had to know so I could understand how he died. I looked up at the door, allowing my eyes to glance over a plaque that hung lackadaisically. It read:

Lurk Hunter

For all your Lurk nuisance needs…

Taking Contracts

You are dead, gone from this Earth, yet you still demand work; still desired to chase after the dangers that haunt our homes. To this day the sign remains hung on your stoop. I lowered my head, fighting off the sadness that was poised to invade my spirits, and reached my hand out, turning the knob of the door.

Painting by Lieve Verschuier depicting the great fire of London in 1666.
Painting by Lieve Verschuier depicting the great fire of London in 1666.

Man Behind an Image

As I pushed the heavy wooden door in, a breath of cold dusty air wafted over me. Looking inside I saw nothing; no pictures on the bare walls; no flickering candles; no people; no signs that life ever existed here. I was taken aback by the lack of luxury. Though you were the best at his profession, having earned enough to live like a nobleman, you resigned yourself to a hollow shell. Great men die admirably; however, you lived a life of seclusion, a prisoner in a cell of your own making. Were you like the church; a man covered in fine linens, virtue and courage spoken through his name, yet bellow it all you wore a tattered suit, and cared little for the world you fought to defend?

I closed the door behind me and tried my hardest to stop my fifteen years of weight from causing the old wooden floor boards to creak as I made my way across them. I listened to the sounds; hisses, moans, whines, scratching – Lurks. The man, who devoted his life to exterminating the demons that lied in wait, mere centimeters from our faces at all times, was thoroughly engulfed by them. There were Lurks in your attic; Lurks in your basement; Lurks in your walls; Lurks scurrying through your cabinets and drawers, mischievously burrowing through the produce and jars; there were Lurks lurking all around. The house itself was a shadow, a dank dark recess of the city. It had become a reprieve for the hunted creatures. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

I prowled about the house, I could hear my heart beating steadily, matching the slow rhythm of my breaths. I checked the basement, averted my eyes from the stalkers who waited within the shadows; explored the attic, hid my gaze from the moans; passed from room to room, dodging the hellish bastards that clawed at me through the walls. Yet I found nothing. There were no remnants of the life you led; no clue to why you were the way you were; no insight on whether you believed in the life you created. Who were you my old friend?

I made my way up the stairs, having only one place left to inspect – the bedroom. There was no life in this house, but maybe here, where he could hide behind the army of Lurks, detached from the world, civilization, and the primal dispositions of humanity youhe could remove your dusty wide-brimmed hat, your tattered trench coat, and even your eye patch. I slipped into the large bedroom and closed the door behind me. The window shades were drawn open, dusty spirals tornado’d in the air illuminated by the warming light that caressed the plain room. It was quiet. The Lurks that reigned over the rest of the house did not reside here. Their scratching, and hissing, and moaning were silenced in the small chamber, only the gentle and comforting sound of silence remained.

Your bed was unkempt, a body shaped imprint pressed into the firm bedding. Your night stand was topped with a single candle, your tobacco pipe mere centimeters from it. A single desk, void of paper work and receipts and all the things usually strewn across a busy man’s tabletops, sat offset from the window, its chair turned away from the desk and instead overlooking Cornwall Street. I sauntered toward the writing table, my guard more lax than it had been during my entire stay. Unlike the rest of the empty house, a tomb void of life, here, finally, I could see a sliver of the Lurk Hunters humanity, of your humanity.

On the desk sat a single bottle of expensive scotch, its cap still off, having rolled off the table and onto the ground. Next to the bottle was a glass, a quarter ways full, droplets of condensation dripping down its side onto the expensive cherry desk. Though it was mundane, in this simple scene I saw life. I saw a man who was haunted by his existence and by the world that he was forced to live in; a man who wanted nothing but to sit in silence, watching as the world passed by his bed room window. He was a man who was scarred by what he saw, resorting to a bottle of scotch rather than facing his issues and the civilization that berated him.

Why did you die the way you did? I always imagined you, your hand reached into a rotting wall, a Lurk slithering around snipping at you. Yet you keep your cool, bravely grasping its long tail, disregarding the cuts and gashes that line your rough bare hands. Just when it has thought it has won, you wrench it from the wall, exposing it to the light it loathes so much. As you stare it fearlessly in the eye you reach for your crossbow, the one slung across the end of your bed post. But just as its demise seems sure, another larger Lurk bulrushes you, and in mere moments it has overcome you; death in battle – the dreams of all young men.

But that is not what happened. Instead you died, a washed up drunk, alone. Not people or possessions around you; nothing to take to your grave. Even you, a man that London believed was great, a hero of the ages, a man who will probably be buried in royal fashion, dies alone, dies without anything he has brought into the world. Dies and becomes a story for people to read and find comfort in. How did you die? I was unable to bring myself to read the article; I was too disappointed by the circumstances of your death. Content with all I had found, I turned and looked out the window, imagining myself in your shoes. I sat down and pulled out the only Newspaper I had kept from my wares. Though it hurt me to do so I began to try and read the front page article:

18th century London newspaper.
18th century London newspaper. | Source

The Standard Newspaper Clipping

London East End:

RENOWN LURK HUNTER FOUND DEAD!

The Public Icon, known mysteriously as the Lurk Hunter, was found dead on Christmas day in his East End estate. A client knocked on the door of his Cornwall Street office and was met with no answer. Worried by the odd reaction, he reported the information to Scotland Yard. Constable Brady said “Upon entering the home, the Lurk Hunter was discovered dead, his face down on a desk in his bedroom, a bottle of scotch still in his hand.”

There was no obvious indication that the London-born Hunter had committed suicide, but it isn’t ruled out. Anyone with information regarding the Hunter’s life or the circumstances of his death is urged contact Scotland Yard immediately. The Lurk Hunters burial service is scheduled for New Year’s Day at Kensel Green Cemetery on the West End. The procession will be overlooked by the Queen herself.

Source

The Hunter's True Prey

As I finished reading the short article I began to cry. Though I believed you were a hero, I realized in this moment, that you were no different than I am. You saw a world blinded by society, believing itself more civil than the savages of the Ivory Coast or the very Lurks you were hired to subdue. But now I see, through this window, that the world is no different. How are these Lurks any different than us? In the face of your weapons, my friend, your tools poised to destroy the creatures, they prey upon each other's weaknesses – each other’s ill-fated existences. How is this different than finding peace in the painful articles of the newspapers I sell to this city’s denizens? How is this different then promising to vanquish these villainous Lurks, yet providing them with a sanctuary in your own home? In the failings of other people, this city is comforted. Like the dueling Lurks, we find salvation and higher purpose in comparing ourselves to those who struggle more than us.

While the Lurks scurry about in the darkness, fighting to survive, humanity scampers about their civilized world looking for comfort in the struggles of their fellow man. In our final moments have we become like those Lurks in the wall, destroying everything in hope of survival. Burning the city we have built. Tomorrow I will rise from my stained cot, shake off the illness that hangs over my sullied London slum, and prey upon this city’s brooding tenants, selling them the very means to look down upon harder lives. Its been this way since I was boy. Though my station in life has changed, my role in perpetuating this vile cycle remains similar. It’s animalistic; In the face of our termination all we can do is victimize each other. I know it is madness, as you used to heartily proclaim, but tomorrow, we know it will not change. It will never change.

Sincerely,

Your Old Friend

Back at the Office

Aldous set the papers down and swallowed a deep chilling breath. What he had just read, the letter, had struck a chord inside the haughty journalist. Like a mirror it forced him to see himself; to see the culmination of every flaw, every patch of hair he missed when shaving, every pit in his face, the elongated nose that was prevalent in his family. Aldous was ready to leave, walk away from the letter; away from the hunched over man, away from the Newspaper Company his family had worked so hard to build. Instantly he felt a need to overcome the spiteful judgment this dead man had made about humanity – about Aldous.

But he couldn’t. No matter how much he desired to break the ominous prophecy that the dead editor had made, he knew he couldn’t. Instead he lowered his hand and picked up the letter again. He wanted to alter the course of history, to be the first man to break the violent cycle of human animalism. But he couldn’t be. He needed to make his money, to make his living. He was a predator and that could not change. He would report the story. People would read it. He would continue using the sufferings of lesser men to sell his articles.

He walked out of the room, the papers tucked under his armpit, his eyes refusing to look any of the officers in the eyes. He entered his horse-drawn carriage and without a word waved to the stagecoach to take him back to the office. He understood and the carriage was swiftly off down Cornwall Street, back to the silver lining of the West End London Estates.

Author Bio and Intentions

I graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 2012 with a Bachelors of Arts in English Studies. Focusing on creative non-fiction, poetry and fiction writing genres, I have been trained and educated in many forms of rhetoric. My passion for writing has always been the most important thing in my life. It is my hope and desire to get my original work out to the community, in order to generate a following an eventually replace tradition employment with a freelance career. Please, follow, comment, and share as nothing is possible without the support of this wonderful community of artists. Thank, you. Cheers, folks!

Eric Pelka
Eric Pelka | Source

Tomorrow Never Changes

The Next Day...

“Extra, extra read aw abaht it! Paper editor kick’d da bucket in East End home! Connections ter famous Lurk ‘unter in question! Get your paper!” A street crier in the Docklands yelled the next morning. Downtrodden denizens hobbled out of the factories, with blank and withdrawn faces, their mouths whispering the headline. It was this kind of story that these people relied on, that allowed them to imagine some glimmer of hope; a story about two men who, though better off, died young, their earnings having meant nothing.

In his office, Aldous sat with the curtains drawn and the door locked, sipping on expensive brandy, a finely carved Meerschaum tobacco pipe with an amber stem resting in his hand. The smell was sweet, as he took a giant hit of the expensive tobacco burning inside the pipe. His eyes scanned the article he had just written, yet his thoughts remained on the letter he had read the day before. He took a large swig of his smooth liquor and bowed his head in shame.

“It’s Animalistic,” he muttered under his breath. “Bloody animalistic.”

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Comments 3 comments

Spen22 profile image

Spen22 4 years ago from PA

Awesome story. Keep up the good work.


Eazy_E profile image

Eazy_E 4 years ago from State College, Pennsylvania Author

Thank you very much! I welcome criticism if anyone would like to be harsh. I've heard it all.


clairemy profile image

clairemy 4 years ago

Good Read, I hope there is much more to come.

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