And thus, so to speak, the seed was sown. Barak’s journey had begun. Of course, he did not know this as he swam in the deep, turbulent currents of his delirium. The tiny creatures, that would swarm under the lens of a microscope, that populated in such profusion the floor of the Old Nick found their route into his open wound. The heavy punch of the dark stranger had smashed his eye socket and rent the skin open from his temple to his cheek. He had remained unconscious on the floor of the tavern until Mowbury had finished his gin.
He had lain in his cot unaware of the world that continually rotated and sped around him. Mowbury came in to the room and moistened his lips with a touch of water over the next week. It was not clear whether Barak would live or die. His right hand was black and misshapen, crushed and broken. The worst of the pain would have been in that lost week. Barak sweated and called out in his fever; he cursed god, he cursed the darkness and he cursed the light. Finally, on the sixth day, he fell into a sleep, his fever broke and he lay still. Mowbury listened to his shallow and ragged breathing thinking there would be no family and few friends that would notice another sparrow fall.
But he lived.
Barak’s senses returned to him. The thumping pain in his head was answered by the throbbing pain in his right hand. Slowly he sat on the edge of the bed. The last rays of the low early spring sun invaded the room. The dust danced and floated in the golden light that somehow penetrated the filthy pane.
His vision was different. The sight was gone from his right eye. He surveyed the wreckage of his right hand. The fingers now lay twisted and immobile, useless claws. He was right handed, he was a watch maker. A deep hollow yearning welled up inside him, a desolation and a loss that felt like a wasteland. He slowly dragged himself up and to his feet. He was unsteady as he made his way over is room to the wall where he hung a small mirror.
It took all of his willpower to look at the reflection. His eye slowly playing over the reflection. The partially healed wound on the right of his face was angry red and swollen. It formed a clear ridge and in one place still wept a little.
His right eye was open but sightless. It was no longer the pale blue of a winter’s sky. The colour had drained and the eye was uniformly white. No pupil or iris was visible.
Barak could not shake the felling of loss, the ennui came over him like a tide but didn’t ebb. His good eye seemed to be more sensitive to light. Barak was certainly more sensitive to the stares and the glances of strangers whom now stared at him like a curiosity. The shadows of the long hours of the night became his friend and haven. Barak started to shun the daylight and withdrew in to the darkness. The longest hours were his refuge, the streets were empty; no piercing glances from strangers.
It was on one of these nights that he first noticed the anomaly. Fog had rolled in from the Thames estuary and shrouded the great city. The dank embrace dulled the normal night time noises and pulses of the city’s rhythm. Barak walked the Radcliffe Highway in a dark fog of his own mind. The notorious ale house, The White Swan was now quiet. The dull yellow light of candles struggled to penetrate the dense fog around the windows.
Barak stood in a doorway watching the pub. By stepping back into the shadow he had become invisible; an imperceptible shadow in a great city crowded with shadows and darkness. A woman stepped from the tavern. He knew her. She was drunk; the cheap gin had been liberally applied to her as an anaesthetic to the pain that she felt in every fibre of her nerves. To Barak she was a thing of beauty. The decay of her condition underscored the tragic fragility she wore.
His good eye savoured every inch of her. Bessie had pulled her skirts up to her calf to avoid the filth that had been thrown from the windows of the Cheapside flats and tenements. Her black boots with the high heel had been laced tightly up to her ankle. She wore no stockings and for a few moments he was able to glance at the smooth whiteness of her well-shaped calf. Her waist was pulled in by her corset. She had maintained her curves even through the desolation and deprivation of the life she lived. Many of the women who worked these streets became thin, skeletal and malnourished. Not Bessie, the ample curve of her full breasts pushed up from the laced corsets and entranced Barak.
She stepped away from the light of the tavern door and pulled her shawl up her shoulders to ward off the slight chill of the autumn night.
“I know you are in the shadow”. It had not been many years since Jack the Ripper had stalked these streets and his presence could still be felt.
“It’s Cain Barak, the watchmaker”. He spoke in quiet tones unsure if his voice would carry to her.
“Oh, I thought you had died after the fight in the Old Nick”. She casually enquired.
“Sometimes I wish I had”.
They walked together towards his rooms.
“Can I stay with you tonight? I don’t want paying, I just don’t want to sleep alone in the cold again tonight”. She looked up at his clear eye.
They lay together and sought solace in their platonic embrace. Her head on his chest as he watched the light start to invade the room like a burglar stealing the last vestiges of his night time comfort. She had got worse. There was a sore on her nose. It was only small. Smaller than a farthing. But there was no way back for her. She suspected the medicines that the physician might prescribe would just add to her growing divorce from the world around her.
It was at this point that Barak noticed something. Some edge to his vision. Just a slight purple halo to the insidious spot. He closed his left eye and saw, with his blind eye some movement in the sore. Without disturbing Bessie from her gin addled sleep he slipped from under the blanket to his, now dust shrouded, desk. His monocle had been unused since it happened. He had made this monocle prior to making his watch. The magnification was far higher than any other jewellers’ monocle. It was heavier than a normal monocle; to the degree that he would wear it mounted to a strap like an eyepatch. He had installed a small clockwork motor in the device to open and close and aperture and move the lenses forwards and backwards for zoom and focus. It represented the finest precision engineering he was capable of. Indeed, Barak felt that this was a better, more complete, piece than his watch. He returned to Bessie. The monocle grasped in his left hand. He had made it for his right, now blind, eye. It did not fit his left eye well. As he placed it over his left eye the tiny purple halo disappeared from around the sore. He only saw that halo through his blind eye. He moved the monocle over to his blind eye.
The smooth whir of the motors and clicking of the tumblers announced that the lenses in the device were so arrayed to give the highest possible magnification.
But he saw the disease in Bessie. His blind eye showed him the workings of the disease. He could see things so tiny they had never been seen before – not even under the most powerful scientists’ microscopes. The minute corkscrew shaped creatures that caused syphilis swarmed in her blood. They attacked her nerves and corrupted her body and brain.
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