In Rides the Devil -- Short Stories

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Infernal Quest

Born in a dark London alleyway Nigel Robert Pummel came into the Victorian world by the old fashion way, by his own Mamma (Lillie) at the stroke of midnight. The alleyway stunk of refuge and human waste. There was not even a drop of clean water available to bathe the crying child. Poor young Lillie, she resorted to using her own tears to bathe the naked babe before painfully making her way towards the nearest orphanage. As she fell upon the orphanage door, a weathered old nun opened up to an exhausted, filthy young street urchin with a newly birthed son in her trembling arms. Baby Nigel slept nestled in an old, damp and tattered sweater. One of the last things his mother had ever owned.

“You can’t come in at ’tis late hour,” the old nun barked. “Sides, we’re done full here so shove off.” She proceeded to close the big oak door with the intention to lock it.

“Wait!” the young woman fretted. With a free hand, she yanked off the gift from the very man who left her with child. In her grasp dangled a silver necklace and pendant. “You can take this as a donation for taking my son Nigel Robert Pummel into your care, please.”

The cranky, old Catholic woman’s hand shot out to receive the silver necklace and nodded solemnly. The pendant had the secret seal of Solomon on it and thus the old crow of a woman saw only its metal value. Given as a payment, for the care of her infant son wrapped in a moth-eaten wool sweater for warmth.

“Fine,” the ol’ crony coughed out, “but fancy I said before, I cannot have another in, so you’ll have to fend for yourself. Think you can do that much lass?”

Poor little Nigel looked so frail, and upon further investigation, he had this little strange birthmark on his left shoulder which looked a lot like that of a goat. A curious thing to see indeed, thought the Nun as she locked the door for the long night. Abandoning the sore and exhausted young mother, back into the alleyway Lillie had come. There she would rest for a bit before finding a better shelter for the night. By dawn, Lillie planned to find a way to make some money, save up and then return for her darling child Nigel.

That had been her plan.

But as dawns early light came in the distant horizon, some nearby street workers had come across the body of a poor young woman barely past seventeen in a corner of an alleyway not far from the orphanage. Found slumped up against a filthy wall, legs open, her dead green eyes starring off in a pool of her own blood coagulating around her. The coordinator at the teaching institution (where they relocated her body to) determined that she had bled to death while giving birth to a child that no one had seen, or had been able to locate.

Rumors among the locals said Lilith had come to take the infant away, to be a meal for the witches. But no one, not even the Bobbies had the scruples to check the nearby orphanages for a little tot dropped off in the night. In the weeks to come, the word on the street about the missing infant child and the discovery of the poor wretched street woman faded away, replaced by more interesting and ghastlier stories to amuse the simple-minded masses.

Poor Nigel was alone in the world.

Even more so in an orphanage full of crying, rejected, half-starved babies that never felt loved, held up, or even lived long enough for adoption. But somehow, by sheer luck Nigel managed to gain the attention of a young couple whom instantly fell in love with his sweet little smile. The Parsons family took baby Nigel in and gave him a proper home.

But even that would not last.

-II-

So Nigel got to keep his first name, and spent many years living with a wholesome Christian family that loved and cared for him as their own. His education was home taught till his mid teens, his adoptive mother Abigail Parsons was a teacher but over the years she suffered from fainting spells, and most often was bedridden by it for many days, and eventually she barely left her room. So the job of looking after Nigel mostly fell on to the maid while Mister Robert Parsons, Nigel’s adoptive father, was off managing a textile factory for a Monsieur Clauneck, a wealthy gentlemen of foreign descent. But during his mother’s sickness, he started to evade his studies, by sneaking out of the house whenever the maid was distracted and took to the streets where he meet up with a miscreant child gang that called themselves the London Street Runners. This went on for weeks on end, until Nigel was caught pick pocketing from someone who had met Nigel many times before: a Monsieur Clauneck, his father’s employer. Clauneck of course merely laughed it off by saying, “A garcon that idles will only find a way of getting himself into trouble, oui?” That night, Monsieur Clauneck arrived at the Parson’s house concerned of Mister Parson’s capacity to both care and provide for his family and for his textile business.

“Honestly Robert,” Clauneck held his top hat to his waist, “I fear this may be too much for someone in your position. What with a sick wife and an unruly child-”

“I promise Mister Clauneck, ’tis will not happen again.” He eyed Nigel who was silent as a mouse watched over by hungry cats.

“I should think not,” Clauneck nodded his approval. “Which is why I am planning to give you a pay raise, you can relocate to the country where you’re wife can breathe fresher air and you will be much closer to the business.” He eyes Nigel and made tight forced smile.

“Sir?” Robert looked baffled, “but your textile plant. It is in the East End of London, near the ports for shipping.”

“Which is the very why we must relocate it closer to my estate, of course. Plus once we move the factory there, it will help develop the surrounding villages and townlets.”

“Well then, I guess you have my promise to do everything I can to make this dream happen.”

“Good man,” Clauneck shook Robert’s hand and the look he gave Nigel’s father made the boy uncomfortable. Like his father was making a big mistake.

Robert swore on his life that he could do both and so Monsieur Clauneck took the bet and gave the man a promotion. So Nigel’s father could prove that he could handle his affairs better than he had been. But the deal wasn’t in effect until Monsieur Clauneck had returned from his trip to the West Indies.

So one evening, while Nigel and his father prepared to eat dinner together for the first time in weeks, there was a persistent knock on the front door. Nigel’s father went to answer it and two young blokes (mere boys themselves) forced their way in and began to beat Nigel’s father into submission, all for money, jewelry or anything of value. Nigel, who had just turned eleven, hurried up the stairs but the skinnier thief was in hot pursuit and had a knife on him.

“Get back here you little bugger! So I can stab you—you bloody traitor.” The young thief ran close behind. “My friend is swinging on a noose cause of you.”

Nigel felt the young man’s rotten breath behind him as he headed into his parent’s room and turned to slam the door. The offender’s arm got in the way, caught between the door and the doorframe so he could push his way into the room. Nigel repeatedly slammed it against the burglar’s arm until the knife in his assailant’s hand clattered to the hard wood floor. It was an unusual looking weapon. A Rusted blade set in a bark covered handle with weird scribble on it. Without further thought, Nigel snatched up the knife and stood in front of at his mother’s bed as her protector. In an opium-induced state, she tried her best to calm Nigel’s hysterics. But once the door to her bedroom flew open she dully grabbed at her bedsheets and called out for Nigel and then for her beloved husband. As the burglar burst in Nigel kept his position between the burglar and his momma’s bed. He held the knife out and the scrawny thief gave Nigel a cruel and rotten-toothed smile. The rest of the thief’s face appeared blistered and scarred as if his life was rough enough to him the very fiend that was in front of Nigel and his beloved Momma.

“Wotcha gonna do with that thar blade eh boy?” The thief steadied himself and measured up poor Nigel, ready to tear a strip out of him the second he dropped his guard.

“You get back!” Nigel was adamant, but his hand trembled.

It was enough to get the thief to inch a bit closer and a bit closer until the tip of the blade lightly touched the older boy’s chest.

He’s not afraid to die, Nigel’s eyes widened in fear.

“If you wanna live through dis, then you best put that knife down ’fore someone gets real hurt.” He yelled the last part.

Nigel said nothing. He was too far too scared to say or do anything.

That was when the man backhanded the blade away from Nigel’s hand. It clattered to the hardwood floor and during a scuffle; it slid right under his mother’s bed.

Nigel then felt a blow to his jaw and sprawled onto the hardwood floor reeling from a sucker punch.

For a moment, he blacked out. His mind slipped into a place of fire and brimstone, a world where millions of souls were screaming. An environment specifically where the sinful paid penance with their eternal souls. As he wandered in a thick fog a huge man came through the clearing and at first it looked like the man was wearing a goat’s head. Like a mask out of some carnival show. As he moved closer, the eyes blinked. Nigel realized that it was no person in a costume, but an actually upright beast. Its chest and arms appeared human enough, but the lower half looked goat-like and the beast, even from a distance, smelled pungent. A feeling of pressure made Nigel wince and shut his eyes tight.

That was when he awoke with a startle, to the sound of his own mother screaming. He pushed up off the hard floor, after spotting the skinny bugger pinned his Momma to the bed and was chocking her. Nigel’s eyes went to where the knife had landed. His thoughts grew dark, darkest as they ever could. He had gleaned into Hell itself and was less afraid of the consequences, but that would mean doing the unspeakable-

He grabbed for the thief’s blade and stood over the bastard who then decided to tear through his Mother’s nightgown instead, laughing like a maniacal fiend. Nigel wore a look of seething hatred and was practically on the verge of tears as he shoved the blade deep into the thief’s back. He then kept stabbing the blade into the right side of the ribcage and punctured the criminal’s right lung. He continued to stab his mother’s assailant as he screamed out in both anger and in utter terror. When it was all over, he stopped for breath and backed away from the carnage on the bed. He let the bizarre knife slip onto the floor and saw that he had not only stabbed the thief, but in a blind rage, he had managed to wound his mother too. He couldn’t tell from all of the blood how bad the infliction was. All he knew was that she wasn’t moving when he tried to get a response. Nigel felt panic rising up.

“Momma!” He wailed. He dragged the dying man off her and to the floor and tried to get consolation from his beloved momma.

Her trembling bloody hands sought his face; she brought him close grimacing and kissed his forehead. Telling him it was all right that everything was going to be okay.

“Now go see to your father, make sure he’s okay. He’ll know what to do.” She lightly pushed him back and told him to hurry. When he numbly nodded, he turned to leave the room, she pulled back her hand to the stab wound she received and felt a little light-headed. “Be careful Nigel, please. The Devil is looking at you.” She whispered.

Nigel nodded as he hurried to the top of the stairs and paused, remembering that there had been another burglar and that he could still be down there. He then turned back to get the knife. Out from the floor and hurried to head down the stairs. So terrified that when he came to bottom of the stairs he noticed that he father was on his back in the living room staring blankly up at him. The side of his face looked like it had taken a blow. It was all puffy and discolored. Nigel came in closer to see if his father was responsive or not. The first bloke that had burst in to the apartment was also in the living room by the fireplace filling his burlap sack with some valued items exchanged an uneasy look to Nigel. Covered in blood and a bloodied knife still in his hand, Nigel knew the bastard had seconds to react. At which the dumb bastard quickly tossed the filled sack at Nigel, bolted out the entrance and escaped out into the night in absolute terror.

Nigel tossed the sack aside and for a second he hesitated at the foot of his father before falling to his knees to see his condition. The man that had loved him, and raised him as his own, was neither responsive, nor breathing. Nigel swallowed back his tears and reached over to close his father’s eyes.

A commotion came from the hallway in which the maid came in from the backdoor and stopped dead in her tracks, trembling as she looked at Nigel’s bloody state. Immediately she dropped the wicker basket of food she had gotten from the local merchant and screamed blue murder. For reason’s he couldn’t comprehend Nigel felt a sense of confusion and guilt. In a panic, he dropped the knife in his hand, pushed past her to get out the door and hurried down the gas lamp lit street in a fit of tears.

He ran until he could run no more, stopping under the pier he began to cry again. His hands were shaking and he bent over to empty the contents in his stomach. In the gloaming light’s water reflection his body and clothes looked stained with blood. After a few minutes of washing in the filthy water, he stood up and turned to see a tall man watching him from the shadows.

Nigel realized that he dropped the strange knife back home and the last thing he need now was more trouble. He mustered his best adult voice, the way his father had once instructed him.

“Piss off you nosy bloke!” Nigel spat out as vehemently as possible, “stop lollygagging and go on now, nothing to see here.” He waved dismissively.

The man in the shadows did not budge from his spot. He simply leaned more into the dim light showing off his top hat and calm, unassuming demeanor. Wrapped around his tanned throat, a burgundy silk neckerchief and his open black regency tailcoat flapped in the evening air. He pointed at Nigel with his white cane. “Nigel Parsons, is that you boy?” the man spoke English with a hint of a French accent.

“I’m afraid that you have me at an advantage, sir.”

“I’m an associate of your father,” the man smiled, “you could say that I own him.”

Nigel squinted, “you’re that textile merchant my father works for.”

“Yes,” the man licked his lips, “you also might also remember that I was the one who caught you pick pocketing me not that long ago.”

Nigel nodded, but didn’t say a word. Instead he decided to test the stranger a little more before he would allow him to get any closer.

“You brought him a blue glass ink bottle from your trip to India.”

“Actually it was a leather stationery box with a matching blue glass ink bottle from my trip to the West Indies, and that was just last year. So how is your father these days? I’ve been meaning to pay him a visit to discuss moving arrangements.”

“It grieves me to say that he has passed on.” It was then that Nigel thought of his mother on the bloody bed with a dead robber slumped to the floor beside her bed. Had she been injured, or was she dead too? He dreaded having to go back home to find out. A feeling of guilt and paranoia was eating at him.

“Really?” the merchant stepped a little closer. “Is that why you’re covered in what looks to be blood?”

“Does that scare you?”

“Should it boy?”

“Tonight two burglars came in while we were having dinner. One attacked my father, while the other hurried upstairs to my parent’s bedroom. I ran up after him to save my mother.”

“So, though I hesitate to ask, is that your blood or someone else’s?”

Unexpectedly a shrill sound of a police whistle in the peer above them caused Nigel to hold his breathe and wait. Then there came the sound of hard sole shoes stomped up and down the wooden docks above them. Dogs in the distance were barking as more and more Bobby Police Whistles echoed throughout the streets of London. His home would be buzzing with investigators looking for any reason to bust some heads, and for some strange reason Nigel still felt riddled with guilt. It was as if he were one of the burglars. He barely noticed the man quickly closing the gap between them to see if the lad was okay or not.

Nigel felt the merchant’s strong hands firmly on his shoulders, “are you well? Did they hurt you? Was anyone else hurt?”

“I-I think both of my parents are dead,” Nigel felt his tears streaming down his face, “they’d have to be, sir.” He fretted as he looked down at his blood stained hands. “The maid came in later and saw me covered in blood and I’m afraid she’ll think that I’m implicated in my parent’s murder. I just know it.”

“Yes, the law here is rather obtuse when it comes down to evidence, but fleeing the scene doesn’t look good on you at all. They might just think you were the ring leader and hang you for it.”

“What was I suppose to do? I was scared. I never meant to-”

“Please, call me Clauneck, or Monsieur Clauneck Clavette, yes?­­­”

“I-I must leave,” Nigel looked around nervously. “I-I don’t think that this is the place to be lingering around talking about such matters in the open like this.”

“Don’t you worry,” Clauneck squeezed his shoulder, “I know a place you could stay for a while. Come on, we must hurry. Time is of the essence if you wish to evade your arrest, yes?”

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