Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
“Can I tell you a story Boss?”
The kindly old man that I knew as Harvey Abberline had asked me in a distant and almost wistful tone in that distinct foreign accent of his that I guessed was from somewhere in the United Kingdom on the very last day he had come into my coffee shop in a gentrified little town on the outskirts of Indiana’s even more gentrified Hamilton county.
He had ordered a tall pumpkin spice latte with a single shot of espresso like he always did around that time of year in the six or so years he’d been a regular and he had been his usual, cheerful self when he came through the door, greeting me with his signature ear to ear smile, and sat down at the table furthest to the from the shop’s only window as he often did while engaging me in the pleasant banter that was characteristic of him in between placing his order.
His abrupt shift in tone was not overly concerning to me at this point because I’d long ago labeled him as a bit of an oddball, though I couldn’t help but notice a certain heaviness in his tone, like he had been wanting to say what he was about to say for a very long time. Since it was getting fairly late in the day at this point and business was slow, I decided to humor him at least until other customers came in.
“Sure Harv, what kind of story?”
He took a long drink from his pumpkin spice latte with his left hand before he answered.
“A story about a monster that was always in plain sight for everyone to see, but one that no one ever noticed.”
“Ummm.. ok, tell away.”
If he had heard my response to his somewhat cryptic introduction, he gave no indication of it. Instead, he just started talking, as if a figurative dam had just broken and words spilled forth like a flood.
“You’ve probably heard this story, or at least a version of it before, it’s really quite famous. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you learned about it in school. Lots of extremely intelligent people have told it and debated about it over the years, and it even found its way into pop culture and literature, though no one’s been able to get it right even after all this time.” He said.
I couldn’t help but notice a hint of pride creeping into his voice as he said this to me, as if he were talking about a personal accomplishment.
“You said this was a story about a monster?” I asked him, a bit confused.
“Oh yes!” He exclaimed in a giddy tone.
“A nameless, faceless monster that did whatever he wanted, to whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it. It was the talk of the town back in the day. Lots of people were accused of being the monster. Surgeons, hairdressers, tailors, butchers, gorillas, Hell even a prince. Everyone had their own pet theory about who he was and why he did what he did. Why it wouldn’t at all be an exaggeration to say that he was the celebrity that ushered in the age of the Newspaper, do you know the story I’m talking about?”
He asked with an expectant smile spreading across his wrinkled face and a glint in his pale blue eyes as if the possibility that I could have no idea what the Hell he was talking about had never even occurred to him.
“Uh, sorry Harv. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a story like that.”
His smile quickly soured into an annoyed frown, as if I’d insulted him.
“What do you mean you don’t know what I’m talking about? Everyone knows this story! It’s in the goddamn history books!” He spat, suddenly furious with me.
I was seeing him in a different light at this point. No longer did he seem like just a harmless oddball. Now I was beginning to think he might truly be crazy. So I tried to placate him as best I could, so he didn’t have a full-blown meltdown in the middle of the shop.
“I’m sorry Harv, I don’t read a whole lot.”
“Clearly not. Kids these days know nothing about anything it seems.”
He lamented with exasperation as he calmed himself down almost as quickly as he had become enraged.
“I guess I’ll have to start the story from the beginning then.” He said after another long drink of his latte.
“Most people say that this story begins with a woman named Polly Nichols, while others say that it began with a woman named Martha Tabram. Both of these are wrong.”
He declared definitively.
“Nichols was not the monster’s first, not even close, and he’d never even laid eyes on the Tabram woman. That was someone else”
He said before launching into a long monologue with his eyes closed as if he were watching a picture-perfect recording of a distant memory behind his eyelids.
“She had the most beautiful red hair. Not that trashy light ginger color you see on some women, but a deep crimson red just like the sunset, and just like blood. She saw the monster quite often, at least once a week when he went into her mother’s little shop to buy trinkets with the meager wages he’d earned delivering meat.
He didn’t really care about the trinkets, they were just an excuse to see her. She would greet him whenever he came in, laugh at his awkward jokes and make friendly conversation with him, but she never truly saw him for what he was, no one did. That was the story of his existence.
He moved through life noticed, but never truly seen. Back then, the monster thought it was because people were stupid, later in his life though he realized that it was because most people instinctively believe that monsters could only appear in stories and fairy tales. The idea that one could be one of your neighbors, or maybe even a regular at your place of business is just too uncomfortable for most people to consider, so they don’t. She certainly didn’t.”
He paused to take another sip of his latte, only to find it empty. He then opened his eyes and looked over to me, his tone shifting back into that of a kindly, quirky old man.
“Why don’t you fetch me another one Boss? Storytelling is tiring work and there is a lot left to tell.”
I had been so enraptured by his macabre recitation that it took my mind a moment to process what he was asking me for.
“Oh.. uh… sure, coming right up”
I stuttered as I did an about-face and headed over to the machine behind the counter to mix up another latte for him. As I did that I found myself stealing glances over my shoulder at the old man that called himself Harvey Abberline.
He had this look of pure contentment painted across his face like he was a child bragging to a friend about how he had gotten into the cookie jar without his parent’s knowledge, rather than an old man telling a story of violence and heavily implied murder to a near-total stranger.
He was almost certainly a crazy old coot, but at that point, I didn’t really have any reason to think he was anything but harmless. At least, that’s what I do my best to tell myself these days.
When I came back with his second latte he looked utterly delighted that his new confidant had returned and that he could continue his story. He snatched the latte out of my hands and sipped it greedily before he spoke.
“Mmm… that’s the stuff. Now where was I?” He wondered aloud.
“You were talking about a woman with red hair.”
His eyes lit up at my mention of her.
“Oh yes of course! how could I forget? I guess my memory is finally starting to slip.” He chuckled.
“Take it from me, Boss, don’t ever grow old. Whoever tells you there’s dignity in it is selling you nonsense. It’s better to go out while you’re young and spry and can still do what you love most without your back and knees screaming at you every step of the way.”
He complained. I gave him a half-hearted nod while I silently awaited him to continue his grim tale. Before long, he took a deep breath and closed his pale blue eyes once more, and continued his story.
“The Monster was young and sloppy back then, and he had no real technique with a blade despite what the newspapers would later speculate. That first girl screamed bloody murder when he made the first cut and sent him into a panic. He started stabbing wildly here and there, but she didn’t stop screaming. It’s a miracle that nobody had heard her and came to investigate. If they had, this story may have turned out quite differently. But no one did hear her. Or maybe they did and just didn’t care.
It was a different world back then, without a lot of the things that kids today take for granted. Violence and death was a part of everyday life and the streets were often literally covered in shit and piss. The police never patrolled the street it happened on if they could avoid it, and the people who could have reported it were not the types to go to the police willingly, for fear of having their own misdeeds dragged into the light.”
“Why did he do it?” I found myself wondering aloud, unintentionally interrupting Abberline’s monologue.
In response, the old man just shrugged. “Because he’s a monster? Who knows really. A cat doesn’t really know why he’s motivated to kill mice, only that it comes naturally to him. Besides answers to a question like “why” tend to be very reductionist at best and really only serve to inflate the egos of pompous academic know-it-alls and wannabe detectives. It doesn’t matter. Anyhow you’ll probably want to hear about Nichols now. I think that would be best for simplicity’s sake. The others before her were pretty boring, the monster hadn’t quite gotten his craft down yet and you wouldn’t know who they were anyway, no paper ever covered their deaths.”
He said dismissively before he slipped back into nostalgic remembrance
“It had been late one night in August, or perhaps early morning, when the monster laid eyes on her stumbling down what had been called Osborn street back then, talking with some woman he assumed, was a friend of hers. A single gas lamp was at the far end of the street so it was rather difficult to get a good look at her, but even from that distance, he could tell that she was quite drunk. He hadn’t committed himself to taking her at this point, he was just watching.
She bantered with that friend of hers for perhaps ten minutes or so before she said her goodbyes to her and staggered back down the street toward the Monster. Once she was close enough to him, he went up to her as naturally as he could and made conversation. Her speech was slurred and difficult to decipher, but eventually, she did manage to proposition him as well as anyone in such a state could have.
It was at that moment that he decided he would kill her. A lot of self-proclaimed experts have said over the years that the Monster chose her because he hated women of her particular profession. That perhaps such a woman had given him a disease or that perhaps his own mother had worked in a similar capacity and that Nichols had been a hateful reminder of that. All of that was nonsense of course. He bore her no real ill will, he’d never even seen her before that night.
He chose her simply because he knew that she would be easy for him to execute with impunity. That was the only real reason he chose most of the women that he did. If he’d made a habit of selecting and pursuing the respectable ladies of high society, he would have run a much higher risk of exposure and capture, there really wasn’t any more to it than that, But I’m getting ahead of myself”
He paused once more and took a deep breath.
“He made a show of negotiating a fair price for her services, and she confided in him that she was in need of doss money for a place to sleep that evening. After giving her a sympathetic look, he agreed to her price, she took his arm, and then off they went together into the darkness. Nichols chatted incessantly as they walked despite her inebriation, particularly about this black straw bonnet trimmed with velvet that she seemed rather proud of. The Monster for his part made half-hearted attempts to reciprocate her enthusiasm for conversation until he felt they were far enough from prying eyes, then he wrapped his hand around her throat and squeezed until she was nearly unconscious, then he lowered her to the ground and cut deeply into her throat with the long-bladed knife he had carried with him for that exact purpose. Her death was not like the first woman’s.
She had no opportunity to scream. Once he had finished his work, he found himself struck with a peculiar desire the likes of which he’d never experienced before. In the simplest possible terms, he found himself wondering what the woman’s innards looked like, and quickly set himself to the task of satisfying that curiosity with his knife. He didn’t know it then, but this simple act of curiosity was the beginning of his legend. Once he was satisfied, he left her on her back in a place called Buck’s Row and returned to his own lodgings for a very restful sleep. The Monster had no dreams that night, and slept without a care in the world.”
Harvey Abberline then paused his retelling and looked over to me as if he were expecting my feedback. I had no idea what to say. To say that I was deeply disturbed by the morbid direction his story had taken and that I very much wanted him to walk out of my coffee shop and never return while accurate, felt totally inappropriate to say to this man who I felt was not right in the head, and very possibly dangerous. So I asked the only thing I could think to ask.
“What happened next?” Abberline took that as a cue to keep talking.
“Yes, yes the next one was… Chapman I think. Yes, that sounds right. Annie Chapman. She wasn’t like Nichols. She was actually rather attractive for her age, even had all of her teeth as far as The Monster could tell. He’d chosen her at the end of the first week of September that same year, after a long night of searching for a woman that was just right for what he had in mind. He ended up making quite a mess of her in the backyard of a house on… What was the name? It was 29 something… Hanbury! That was the name. He’d heard somebody moving about in the yard next door and that gave him quite a fright! Mind you, it didn’t frighten him off from finishing the job properly and taking what he needed from the Chapman woman, but he worried all the way back to his lodgings that whoever was in the yard next door had seen him at work, perhaps even seen his face! But nothing ever came of it.”
It was at that exact moment that the front doorbell of the shop rang out and some of the other regular customers started filling the shop. Abberline stopped his recitation immediately, flashed a pleasant smile and waved to a few of the people he recognized and began bantering back and forth with them about the weather and other completely forgettable day-to-day topics and I was once again baffled by how this man could go from morbid and creepy to benign and charming like he was flipping a switch.
Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to have a respite from his awful tale however short, but I was still just amazed by how thoroughly harmless and even boring he seemed while he made conversation with the other regulars. If you hadn’t had heard what I had been hearing over the past few hours, you’d have never guessed that anything was off about him at all.
I did my best to avoid making eye contact while I went about serving the other regulars, but I could feel his cold blue eyes on me nevertheless, watching and waiting patiently. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. To my dismay the other customers left fairly quickly after receiving their orders, once again leaving me and Harvey Abberline as the only two people left in Nobel Coffee and Tea. He gestured for me to come back over to his table and I did so slowly while trying very hard to think of a clever and creative way to get him to leave. What I ended up saying was not very creative at all.
“We’re gonna be closing soon Harv.”
“Don’t worry Boss, I won’t take up much more of your time. We’re just getting to the fun bits anyway.” He replied with enthusiasm. He then launched back into his tale without giving me a chance to respond.
“That business with Chapman had the whole town talking, the papers couldn’t get enough of it. Everywhere you looked someone was talking about it, and after a few weeks of enjoying the fruits of his labor, the Monster had the brilliant idea to introduce himself to the world!”
“How did he do that?”
“With the letter of course!”
“What letter?” I asked.
He didn’t bother to elaborate, he seemed utterly consumed with telling his story in the precise way he wanted to tell it. “The Monster waited for the letter to hit the papers, but it didn’t. He suspected, and would confirm much later that those simpletons at the News Agency had thought it was a hoax at first. A hoax! Can you believe that? Those utter buffoons had been personally addressed by greatness, and they called it a hoax! I tell you, Boss, some people are completely worthless.”
He said in a voice that dripped with contempt.
“Their incompetence didn’t deter the Monster though. Quite the opposite, in fact, it spurred him on to get right back to work just a few nights later. He’d made a foolish and hasty choice when he picked the Stride woman, and in his haste, he’d forgotten to make sure he wouldn’t be disturbed while he set about his work. He ended up having to flee when some fool on his cart almost rode directly up to him mid-cut. Let me tell you, Boss, you’ve never been so full of blind rage and frustration as the Monster had been as he walked over to Mitre Square and grabbed the first woman he could get.
There had been no interruptions with that woman, only sweetest satisfaction as he did to her everything he had intended to do to Stride. He was so pleased with himself by the time he was done, that before he went back to his lodgings he wrote up a quick note about his success on a postcard, and sent it into those idiots at the News Agency the next day and I can assure you that they had a much harder time calling that one a hoax Boss.”
I didn’t want to hear any more of this, but I was also legitimately afraid to interrupt him. So I just did my best to keep a passive and expressionless look on my face while his tale reached its crescendo.
“There’s only one more from that year worth talking about. Mary Jane Kelly. She had the most beguiling singing voice. The Monster did not plan to do what he did that night on Miller’s Court Boss, I swear to you. But something about that beautiful young lady just brought out the worst in him.”
He said in a cryptic tone that was the closest he’d gotten to sounding remorseful throughout the entire time he had been ranting.
“Her death was not like the others. The Monster had a room and a locked door to work with. There was no need to hurry or to look over his shoulder. He could devote his focus to his work entirely, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Abberline then took a moment to take off and clean the glasses that were on his face and give a deep exhale as if from exertion, Before offering up something like an epilogue to his twisted and debauched story.
“Most people will tell you that the Monster went silent after that as far as anyone could tell, people all over the world were outraged, the police commissioner resigned in shame, and the papers reported whatever they could get their hands on to feed the grim fascination of newly literate public. People speculated about where he had gone and what he was doing, and about whether or not he was still working for some time. Eventually though, due to the passing of time, the cases went cold and so did the fascination.
The story of the faceless monster and his long knife faded into urban legend and even ended up becoming something of a tourist attraction. Many people would go back over the story as time passed, looking for that missing piece of the puzzle their predecessors had overlooked, even though they always ended up coming up short. Not many people talk about it anymore, because as awful as his reign of terror had been, most reasonable people will tell you that by now, the Monster must be long dead. A thing of the past.”
He then looked me in the eyes with a sly grin spreading across his aged face as he leaned in closer to me.
“But let me tell you a secret Boss. Monsters never really die, so long as there are people around to remember them and tell their stories. That’s why the work has to continue, why it must always continue so that people remember.” he said reverently
Sensing that his long incoherent monologue was finally over. I quickly went about the task of getting him out of the shop as politely as I was able to.
“Well that’s really fascinating Harvey, and honestly a lot to digest. I’ve got to close up shop now but you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about.”
He looked a bit crestfallen at my response but he took the hint.
“Yes, Of course, I understand. I’m tired anyway. Thanks for hearing me out, it’s been such a long time since I’ve been able to tell that story.”
He then stood up and stretched his tired limbs before he made his way to the front door of the shop and turned around to face me one last time.
“You’ll hear from me soon.” He said with a wink before he turned and walked out the door and back onto the street outside.
I locked the door behind him a lot quicker than I’d care to admit and watched him walk up the street without consciously realizing that I was holding my breath until he disappeared from view.
This experience I had with the man called Harvey Abberline unnerved me deeply, and stayed in my thoughts until I got home a few hours later. His words felt so sincere to me that I couldn’t shake the feeling that he had described actual murders to me. So if only to lay my worries to rest, I googled some of the names and addresses he had talked about that I could remember, and was really relieved by what I found out.
The people he talked about were indeed the victims of an unidentified serial killer from Great Britain, but the murders had taken place over a hundred and thirty-three years ago. There was simply no way that he could have been the perpetrator of those crimes. He was probably just a nutcase with a true-crime fetish.
I did my best to put him out of my mind after that and fortunately for me I never saw Harvey Abberline again after that day. Whenever he came up in conversation with the other regulars the most anyone could agree on is that he had moved away. I didn’t miss him. Several years came and went after that day and I had nearly forgotten all about him until one cold morning when I had stepped outside of my apartment to start my car and head into work, I found a peculiar little box just outside my door with an attached postcard.
There were no addresses or postage stamps anywhere on the box or postcard, which to my mind could only have meant that someone had to have already known where I lived and dropped it off by hand. The postcard itself contained a short message written in spidery handwriting with red ink.
“Dear Boss, I hope this is enough to convince you. I’m a lot of things, but I’m no liar. – HA”
I then somewhat hesitantly took the box into my hands and opened the lid. Once I saw what was inside the box, I immediately vomited all over my front porch and ran back inside to grab my phone and call the police.
I would end up finding out later that the putrid contents of that package from Hell that had been left on my doorstep was in fact a cleanly excised woman’s uterus. The cops were never able to find out where it came from and as I type this, I still live my life in fear, looking over my shoulder wherever I go and I guess the only thing I have left to say is this warning, that if you ever come across a peculiar left-handed old man with a taste for pumpkin spice, run away as fast as you can, because he very well could be the Monster that I met at Nobel Coffee and Tea.
Credit : McSinister456
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