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“’Ere, Bertie – help me pull her up onto the bank, will you?”
“Alright, then.” Bert said stoutly, though Thomas still caught the furrow in his brow as they both rolled up their navy trousers and waded out in their boots to drag her corpse ashore by the armpits.
She’d been a pretty young thing; skin was spongy and purple in places now that the bloat was starting to set in but her eyes were closed and she wasn’t rotten yet – maybe that was why young Bertie could muster up the nerve to get near.
Still, there was no way to ignore the tragedy of the thing – not even for hardened ol’ Thomas. What a waste of womanhood; her dress was thin and white, a nightgown soaked through to semi-transparency. In the twilight he could still make out the dark circles of her nipples capping her pert breasts beneath the cloth. Now that he had a closer look, he could see there were an awful lot of tears in the cotton. She mightn’t have been from the wealthiest family, but she would’ve been a right catch nevertheless.
“Perhaps she’s a scullery maid.” Thomas mused aloud.
“There’s not a village for three miles, never mind a toff’s house,” Bert pointed out, and he was right.
“Might just be some unfortunate that did away with herself in the night,” he mused again, “Must have wandered around for hours. Maybe she’s from the loony bin up on the point.
“Loony or not, what’d make her go an’ do a thing like that?” His partner’s voice was hushed, dropping his half of the load once she was ashore and hastily wiping his hands on his thighs.
“That,” Thomas said plaintively, paying a curt nod down to her stomach where a round, pregnant belly swelled up from beneath her sodden nightgown.
A moment of silence passed between the two bobbies as they stared out into the misty fog threading through the marshy ponds that dotted the moor. Bert nervously cleared his throat.
“’Ere! ‘Ere, Thomas. There’s something queer in her mouth.”
Thomas looked down, and there it was: something jet-black and sinewy, catching the light in strands like ink-stained rope. “So there is. Well go on, then; pull it out.”
Bert balked. Of course he would. Once again Thomas felt resigned to the duty to work some practicality into the lad. The beat wasn’t just nabbing street urchins and drunks off the road, not these days.
“Go on, Bertie.”
He watched the younger man squirm his lips, bending hesitantly at the waste as he reached out. For one fleeting moment it looked like his outstretched fingers would make contact with the debris, yet in the final second he snatched his hand back, cringing in upon himself.
“I can’t, Thomas. I think it’s a beetle,” he said pathetically, and Thomas saw red.
“Well then if it’s a bloody beetle, pull the sodding thing out and be done with it!” Thomas snapped.
His partner flinched, and Thomas felt a stab of regret at his outburst. It was no way to mould a man into something braver, he should know. His father had taught him that.
“’Ere Bert, listen,” he coaxed, this time trying his hardest to keep the angry wheeze out of his voice. “Just give it a go, eh? There’s a goodly tot of whiskey in it for you if you do. The stuff I keep locked up at the station; there’s still a third left.”
“A goodly tot,” Bertie parrotted, his tone hollow as he stared down at them both. For a fleeting moment he looked like he might reconsider, a hesitant tremor running down his hand like the tendons inside were violin strings. It stopped when his fist clenched.
“I’m sorry, Thommy; it’s the insides. You know I can’t deal with the insides!” Bertie babbled, shrinking in on himself. Thomas waved him aside with a broad hand.
“I’ll do it, then,” he said dismissively, feeling like he was begrudging a child. Getting onto his knees in the dirt, he moved to pluck the thing out of her lips and was met with some resistance. “What in the blazing…” he muttered, prising her jaw open to get a better look. It was no bug, but indeed a rope; it went right past her teeth and down into the fleshy tunnel of her throat.
Full of resolve, he curled his fingers around the bristly protrusion as started to pull. There was no give at first, but once he pushed her head back and pulled at the same angle as her windpipe, it started to come free, bit by bit. There was a good five inches so far.
“Thomas,” Bert piped up, his voice urgent and worried, “Thomas, just leave it be!”
“Shut up,” Thomas said curtly, but he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. He pinched his nose to fight the sour taste in his mouth as continued to pull the rope free. There was something on the end of it; he could see the bulge moving up in her throat and it was dragging the rank stench of her insides up with it.
Ignoring Bert’s whimper, he pulled harder, his teeth grit with suspense. Slowly, the wench gave birth at the wrong end to a smooth, slimy sphere. Beneath the dripping stomach bile, it seemed white, like porcelain.
That wasn’t even the end of it; there was more of the same black cord going right down her gullet. There was already another bulge in her throat, and Thomas was struck by the nauseous doubt if that pregnant belly was even a pregnant belly at all, or just a mass of beaded rope that someone had spent a great deal of time stuffing the whole, unknown length of down there, swelling her stomach.
Hadn’t it seemed to shift and shrink slightly when he pulled? He couldn’t remember now.
“Bloody hell, Bert,” Thomas gasped after a moment, his voice a lot quieter than he felt it ought to be, considering how hard his heart was racing. “Bring the wagon round, and fetch a lantern, too! This isn’t an ordinary killing, the Sergeant will want a proper look into this.”
His partner wasted no time, adjusting his helmet in a fidgety panick as he took the order and then scrambled back up the marshy bank to the cobbled road where they’d left the wagon and the horses tethered.
What kind of deranged psychopath would do this to a poor young girl? A proper serial killer, that’s what. He set her down again hastily, her head lolling to one side as the threaded string flopped onto the dirt like a filthy necklace. Thomas whipped the grubby little notepad and pencil out of his breastpocket and started jotting down notes about the discovery – his superiors would have his hide for not doing it from the start.
“Upon returning the body to the shore we noticed an obstruction – no, protrusion,” he muttered. There was a belchy burp by his knee and he stopped, looking back down at her face. He knew the dead ones could rattle like that, but brackish water had done more than just bubble up out of her belly.
Now the stomach bile was washed away, he could see an iris set into the orb. It was no mere sphere, but an eye, vividly emerald as though it were painted on. A string of glass eyes.
“Fuck,” he exclaimed softly, scribbling over his last sentence and starting again. This was a real pervert they were dealing with, the kind of cryptic killer that was way above their station. There’d be detectives and the whole circus on this case.
He paused, swearing he caught a sign of movement in his periphery.
The eye swivelled on the string in a lazy circle, then stopped and looked right at him. Thomas blinked.
Bertie had a harder time of getting the horses to come around than usual; they could always smell the fear in his sweat. Once he hand the wagon near enough and lined up to load the body into the back, he lit one of the oil lanterns as night time began to bloom in the sky. Thomas would be grateful for it to take his notes. He hurried back down the slope to the water’s edge.
“Thomas?” he called, holding the lantern out as he searched the bank. There was no answer to his call.
He was a cruel man to test him like this. He knew it didn’t make things any better. “T-Thomas,” he called louder, tongue tripping over his attempt to speak with gumption. Stepping closer to the bank, his boot hit something: the girl. With a shudder he stopped and looked down, and the lanternlight caught the fresh crimson on the grass.
It wasn’t the girl.
There was a bubbling sound in the water that cut through the night’s silence and Thomas gave a shout and fell back on his rump. The wetness through his slacks sent him into a greater state of panick and he thrashed like an animal to get back to his feet, whirling round to face out to the water in the direction of a feminine snicker that dripped through the darkness.
Lifting the lantern up high, he saw her there in the water up to her mottle collarbone, her blind eyes open and milky white. He could have sworn those purple lips smiled at him before that black, fibrous cord licked at them like a satisfied tongue and she slowly sank beneath the surface.
Thommy’s eyes were missing from their sockets, leaving nought but wet, red holes in his head. Bert thought he heard a trail of bubbles come up towards the bank.
Dropping the lantern, Bert scrambled up and away on all fours until his legs got enough traction to carry him like a man. He couldn’t cut a horse loose fast enough.
Credit To – Dean Wax