02 Dec The Rag and Bone Man
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"The Rag and Bone Man"Written by Steven Long
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
News came to London in the year 1820 of a series of brutal murders which had been committed throughout the neighboring counties. Reports that a monstrous man – broad, roughly six-foot-seven in height – had been seen close by to almost a dozen of these incidents. The consistent descriptions of this figure coupled with the bizarrely gruesome conditions in which the victims’ bodies were found gave this hellish figure his name.
The victims – both men and women – were found with stab and puncture wounds on their torsos and upper legs along with severe lacerations to their arms, faces and shoulders. Though these injuries by themselves were enough to put fear into the heart of those who discovered them; there were other more ghoulish findings. The victims all had two or three bones missing from their bodies – the bones taken were always small and from their limbs. The victims always had a long strip of fabric missing from the backs of their clothing.
Examinations of the bodies showed no sign that no one injury including the removal of the bones could have alone been immediately fatal and it was entirely possible the victims had slowly bled to death. This part of the reports, in particular, horrified and disgusted those who heard it as it became apparent that the victims had quite possibly been conscious whilst their bones were removed. Lastly the theory that the strip of clothing from the victims’ back may have been used to wrap the removed bones led to the beastly killer being dubbed: the Rag and Bone Man.
* * * * * *
As mania swept the Southern counties from fear of attack, a different sort of panic began to overcome Luke Wetlock.
Luke was a factory worker who had moved to London a few months prior to the first attacks. Luke’s wife Gwen had not made the move to London with him. They had decided it would be best that he would go first to secure stable work and accommodation while Gwen would remain in their home town of Godstone.
Luke would return home once a month to see Gwen, give her enough money to get by on and save so their new life in London would have the best start possible.
Luke had heard stories of the Rag and Bone Man day in and day out for the past few weeks and became deathly fearful for his wife. After days of not eating or sleeping, days of worrying and obsessing over Gwen’s safety, he made his mind up – he would travel back to Godstone early. The next day was Sunday, so he had time to pack up Gwen’s and his belongings and bring her to London. There he could protect her, there she would be safe. Luke left for Godstone that night.
A fierce wind was blowing as Luke began on foot to walk the twenty miles back to Godstone. Wrapping himself tight in his overcoat he willed himself down the roads and lanes of London, thanking God that it was at least dry that evening. The wind hissed in his ears and stung his face as he marched undeterred towards Gwen. Luke loved her more than anything, he would gladly endure ten times the distance, ten times the cold and far more beyond to be with her, to hold her in his arms and know she was safe. How terribly he missed her, how long were the days and weeks between his visits and how quickly the time went when they were together.
Luke had walked almost all night and dawn was approaching. His legs were like lead and his bones ached. His fingers were blue and his feet were numb. He was now nearly half a mile from home approaching the final few roads when he saw a very unnerving and unwelcoming sight. Stood at the foot of Godstone Hill was a figure. Luke could not make him out in too much detail as the soon dawning sun was still beyond the horizon, but in the dim of the dying dark he could make out the figure of a tall and broad man.
The man’s position lay between Luke and his path and though apprehensive of passing the foreboding figure, Luke pressed forward. As Luke near limping now approached closer, he noticed the man in most great detail: he was about six foot seven in height, possessing a huge frame with a wide chest and broad shoulders hidden under a dark stained oilskin coat. He had thick, rough, black hair at forehead length with big, scruffy sideburns. The man’s arms were at his sides and both appeared to be holding something thin and metallic. He also appeared to have larger metallic objects protruding from the sleeves of his coat. Perhaps Luke thought he had been injured upon noticing the wet, glistening, red liquid on the man’s hands as he walked closer. Forgetting his aching legs he hurried to the large man.
“You okay there, mate? Do you need me to…?” Luke yelled.
The sentence wheezed shut from Luke’s mouth as he stopped dead twelve feet shy of the man’s position. Luke cursed himself for not trusting his initial judgment of not approaching the man, but if he had been hurt, Luke would have wanted to help him in some way – he would have wanted to help anyone. A noble notion though not for the first time may have put him in a less than desirable position.
Dawn had begun to lighten the sky by now and Luke could see the man in all too vivid detail as he turned and looked towards Luke. The man smiled an unnervingly broad smile that looked to almost unhinge his jaw as his eyes widened and dilated like an animal glimpsing wounded prey.
“Can you do something for me?” the man asked. His words oozed out of his mouth in a malevolent, serpentine nature.
“Well… let me think, young man. Can you do something for me? Can you be of use to me?”
Upon saying this, the man released his hands from his sides and carefully rolled back the sleeves of his coat. What he revealed scared Luke to his now palpitating heart. His once frost numb feet were now set ablaze with each and every synapse burning with palpable terror running through his whole body. His stomach clenched itself, his arms and hands became stiff and contorted as he fought the bile rising to his throat.
As the man opened his hands, Luke realized that the metal objects he held were, in fact, two iron spikes piercing from his palms. He thought for a brief moment that they had been bored through the back of his hands, but a quick double-take showed no puncture or even a blemish. They appeared to simply belong there, as if they had always been there. As the sleeves of the weather-worn oilskin coat were rolled up the man’s arms, Luke’s terror intensified further as he discovered the man’s forearms had almost identical spikes though double in length protruding from them, just stopping past his wrists rising away approximately thirty degrees from running parallel to the man’s arms. Luke’s short time to process what he was seeing was cut short as the large man leapt at him swiping one of his barbed hands across Luke’s right shoulder. Luke’s windpipe felt momentarily seized shut as he struggled to draw breath in shock from the speed of the man’s assault, as well as the burning gash ripped across the front of his shoulder. Luke’s legs failed him as he crumbled to the floor holding his shoulder, desperately trying to force air down his throat trying not to let shock completely overwhelm his tired body. The large man now feet from Luke’s shivering, gasping and bleeding body paused briefly to address him.
“I know what you can do for me now,” he said in a dark, condescending tone. “You and I are going to play a game… Let’s see… What’s your name?”
Luke drew a quivering breath. He held it for a moment in an effort to steady his voice.
“Luke… My name is Luke.”
“Well then, Luke, I reckon we – the two of us – will call this game –” The man stopped mid-sentence. He walked to Luke’s feet and pierced his upper legs with his viciously spiked arms. Luke’s eyes streamed with tears as he screamed in abhorrent pain and terror feeling the cast iron puncture through his legs.
“Let’s call this game… If Luke can get there before bleeding to death, then nobody dies today.” The beastly man crouched down to meet Luke’s catatonic gaze. “Here are the rules…”
“I know there’s a woman in Godstone, a woman living all alone but wearing a wedding ring, almost as if her husband is away, possibly working. I also have a good idea what her husband’s name is – don’t I, Luke?”
Luke’s eyes focused swiftly as the weight of the man’s words exploded through his ears.
“Now, Luke…” The man rose to his feet slowly taking his coat off and revealing a small cloth bag underneath which had been resting over his shoulder. The bag rattled as the man swung it several times under Luke’s face. Luke could only get a pacing view of the inside of the bag but by now he knew what it was filled with – bones. He remembered in all too much detail the stories, the same stories that had led him down this ill-fated path.
“I reckon from your reaction Luke that you know exactly who I am, don’t you?” The man said in a demanding voice prompting Luke to answer. The man now smiling swung the bag back onto his shoulder and kicked Luke’s face knocking him to his side.
“So, Luke… who am I?”
“You’re the…” Luke paused holding the new swelling cut on his cheek. Tears again ran freely down his face. “You’re the Rag and Bone Man…”
“Yes, I am…” the man sneered. “I’m also the man heading to your home…” The man paused, putting his coat back on. “Let’s see if you can get there in time…”
With that, the Rag and Bone Man ran like a dart and out of sight. Luke rolled calmly onto his stomach willing his body desperately to move. He crawled in agony a few feet on his hands and knees to a nearby wall and managed to resist passing out from the pain and exhaustion to get to his feet. He had to get to Gwen, but what chance did he have of defending Gwen and himself against the Rag and Bone Man when he got there? He moved so fast, he was so strong and vicious, but Luke breathed deep. He knew he had to try, his sight was becoming blurred but he had to keep moving.
Fraught with pain, Luke made his way with labored pace. His mind in agonizing conflict with itself was at once pushing him to keep his footing while begging him to stop and give respite to his torn and punctured body. Luke stopped for a moment using most of his remaining strength; he tore the sleeves off his shirt and tied two tight tourniquets around his legs before putting his overcoat back on. This worked well to stem the blood from his punctured legs and he again rose to his feet. If only he could make it home maybe the Rag and Bone Man would keep to the rules of his cruel game and he and Gwen would survive this terror.
Though the Sun was almost completely up Luke saw no-one around the small houses and barns as he dragged his near spent body towards home. He felt groggy and light-headed but he forced his legs onwards. His vision became hazy, doubling at times as he got to within fifty yards from his home. His numb and cold body were becoming increasingly resistant to his mind’s will to keep moving, when he heard him.
You’re almost there, Luke, he thought to himself.
Luke focused his gaze as best he could at the front door of his home to see the Rag and Bone Man almost hunched under the frame of the as yet still closed door.
“Come on, Luke, just a bit further and you’ve almost made it.” The Rag and Bone Man tapped his fingers on the door frame and ran his barbed hand up and down the door. As Luke limped and dragged himself agonizingly close to within a few yards of the door, the Rag and Bone Man waited.
“Luke, my old mate, well done. Well done. I’ll meet you inside.”
With that the Rag and Bone man turned and opened the large front door, disappearing inside the house and out of sight.
The sight of this spurred Luke’s mind into a near frenzy. His once cold lips and limbs began to tingle with a newly panic rush of blood. His legs ridden with holes and exhausted from his long walk, contorted and shook as adrenalin-fuelled his muscles. Though unable to ignore the painful throbbing or swelling of his injuries he pushed and hobbled into what was so close to being a run, yet clumsy and uneven. His eyes burnt red with tears and his teeth were near cracking as he gritted his jaw. He had to get to Gwen and with nothing more than sheer force of will and a primeval wrenching in his heart to protect his wife, he made it to the house and hobbled inside.
The house was small and made of large brick. It had only two rooms, one of the biggest was connected to the front door – the only door to the house, the large main room had a great wooden table with four chairs, a small range stove connected to a thin tin chimney to the left of the door, on the back wall was a small-paned window. The right wall had the door to the smaller bedroom; this smaller room only had a double bed, a small dresser and a wardrobe, as well as a small-paned window.
“Congratulations, Luke,” the Rag and Bone Man said, his back to the far wall of the main room.
“Where’s Gwen? Where’s my wife?” Luke spat his words as he stumbled and struggled to stay on his feet.
The Rag and Bone Man rushed him crashing the back of his huge hand into the side of Luke’s face broadening the already swollen cut on his cheek leaving him punch-drunk and near unconscious. The Rag and Bone Man dragged his limp body and propped Luke on one of the chairs at the table.
“I don’t like your tone, Luke,” the Rag and Bone Man snapped. “But you did make it here, and as you won’t keep to the rules… Let me go and get Gwen for you.”
Luke’s body felt limp as the last of his adrenalin left his muscles and he felt himself begin to lose consciousness, the Rag and Bone Man left for a moment to go to the bedroom.
“Oh, Luke… I think I may have left something out of our conversation earlier.” Luke’s eyes shot open as a heap was thrown at him landing on the table next to him. “I feel I should tell you Gwen was never in any danger today.”
Luke’s eyes struggled to focus on the table as the Rag and Bone Man walked back and stood next to the burning top of the stove.
“You see, I knew who you were, as your name was the last thing screamed in this house when I paid poor sweet Gwen a visit two days ago…” As Luke’s eyes focused at the table his heart bled cold as he could merely look at Gwen’s cold, dead body minus her left and right arms. “Gwen was in no danger today, but she would have really appreciated you being here two days ago.” The Rag and Bone Man laughed.
Luke’s crushed body and broken heart tried to will him to rise and attack this evil thing, but his body was done and it would not move. The Rag and Bone Man put his spiked arms on to the stove.
“I did say no one would die today though, didn’t I, Luke?” Luke could only give a vacant and defeated look at the large beastly man as he took his arms from the stove and walked across to Luke. Without any more words, the Rag and Bone Man used his spiked arms to pierce and bind the wounds on Luke’s legs.
“You see, Luke, you’re not going to the die today because I find you too… fun. But -” He grabbed Luke’s hair and forced his face into his. “The slice in your shoulder, that’s a mark, boy. A mark of your time before I return…”
The Rag and Bone Man let Luke’s head drop, making his way to the front door.
“As soon as that wound has healed, I’ll be back…and Luke… I’m only coming back for you, my boy…” And with that, the Rag and Bone Man left and Luke passed out.
Luke awoke the next day in agony, with a broken heart. He slowly rose from the chair, finding that, somehow, though painful, his legs were again able to take his weight. His shoulder had scabbed over and so had his face. Luke dragged a chair to the stove and after lighting it, simply sat by it and cried. Luke sobbed, wailed and cried until no more tears could be made.
In the afternoon, Luke began to think about what the Rag and Bone Man had said to him, that once his shoulder was healed he would return. Luke began to form a plan, and as he gently moved his way to the dresser in his bedroom, he found the money that Gwen had been saving for their new life. Luke had a different use for it. It was not by any means a fortune, but was enough for what Luke had in mind. Luke spent the next few days buying food stocks, bricks and mortar, and made a special trip to London to buy one very specific item.
It took three days for Luke to brick up the windows in the house and stock up the house with food, water, and firewood. When he was finished, only one entrance to the house remained. As the sun began to set on the fourth evening, Luke filled his house with candlelight, sat in the middle of the main room facing the sole door and entrance to the house. As he ran his hand along his now fully-healed shoulder, Luke bent down, picked up his new revolver, sat down – gun in hand – and waited.
Credit: Steven Long
Edited by Craig Groshek
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