Monsters and Angels
Somewhere, in the Great City, a bell tolled - although the city didn't look that great to me as I lurked in a stinking alley, hidden in shadows. (That's what we do, we monsters. We lurk.)
This part of the city was a slab of shop frontages overlooking a cobbled street. At one end of the road was a pub, still open well after hours. There was music, laughter and...women. I lurk here to look at women. Women of a certain sort. And wonder if there is enough money in the world for one of them to...well... you know. I had tried once, a while back. She didn't even get a good look at me before running off screaming. So I suppose there's my answer. But still I am curious.
A gaggle of people spewed from the pub into the misty evening , laughing over-loudly, hanging on to each other in a clinging mutuality. The men with the money, roaring drunk and staggering about and the painted women with fear staring out from beneath their crude masks.
Suddenly, just as I pulled up my collar against a keening wind two of the women popped up in front of me, laughing and pointing. They were the oldest and the ugliest of them all.
"Don't be shy, luv. You don't mind the two of us do you? Can you handle the two of us?" said one.
"Can't be too careful," muttered the other through cracked teeth. "Not with...you know...him about. But we can still have some fun, the three of us."
Here I made my big mistake. I should have slunk back into the alley and told them to clear off. But I didn't. I stood still, wondering if this was to be the time...
The first whore reached forward, laughing. She pulled on my lapel and my head lolled forward into the shaft of light from the opposite lamppost. They both screamed in unison.
"Help!...murder...it's him...Leather Apron...help...oh God help us..."
They backed away, howling.
I started away but my shambling gait was no match for the mob that appeared in a blink. Someone kicked my stick and I fell to the cobbles. Heavy hands rolled me over. There was a collective gasp as my face was revealed.
"It IS him!"
"The monster...Leather Apron...Redjack..."
There was a flash of silver as someone drew a knife. All I could smell was beer, sweat...and fear.
"Go on, Harry. Stick the Bastard!"
The man named Harry stood over me. I suppose I should have cried out but I didn't. The crowd stood over me in a silent horseshoe as Harry raised the knife over his head. I guessed it would end like this, one day.
It was a voice from nowhere. It cut through the air with a blast of authority.
"Who says stop?" demanded Harry, looking off to his left, the knife still trembling over his head.
"I do. Disperse to your homes!"
I could only see a dark silhouette off to the right, framed by the viaduct bridge. The mist whirled into a vortex behind him, almost giving him wings.
"You sod off!" shouted Harry, steadying the knife once more. "I'll be famous for this. The most famous man in all England..."
There was a...noise. That's all I can describe. Low and burrowing into my bones. Then there came the breath of Satan. A red glow that bounced off the mist forming a fiery tunnel. But there was no heat, just a force like an angry fist. The man called Harry yelped and rolled away as if pushed, his knife clattering to the cobbles. I could hear the mob scream as the infernal force pushed them away, the grunting of the men and the shrillness of the women. The force flicked me over like a roll of carpet until I came to rest a few yards into the street.
When I looked up the crowd had gone, running from Satan, screaming as if pursued by all the demons from Purgatory.
Then I heard footsteps approach. Satan was coming to claim his monster and take me to Hell.
Then a voice. A woman. Calm and reassuring. "Are you all right?" She was standing over me.
I lowered my arm and looked up into the face of an angel.
It started for me when the Doctor said, "Well, Aileen, I think you should chose our next destination."
Behind us lay our visit to the planet Mezzarios and its miraculous ionic clouds.
As we had languished in the clouds the Doctor had become somewhat effusive, most unlike his normal persona.
"I'm just like you now, or any human for that matter. A 'one-lifer'." His voice had the merest slurring quality. Not drunk exactly, but tipsy.
His reference to being a 'one-lifer' only became clear when he chuntered on about being able to regenerate twelve times and how wasteful he had been with his previous lives. So he was the thirteenth and last – a 'one-lifer' now.
As soon as he realised that the ionic clouds were somehow reacting with his metabolism to cause his mild intoxication, he dragged me back to the Tardis – that magical cathedral-like space impossibly contained within a blue police telephone box (whatever 'blue' means).
And that's where he asked the question. "There must be somewhere you've always wanted to...see?" he said. I heard him try to snatch away the last word but he was too late. I suppose it's only to be expected. I was his first blind companion, so I understand his occasional verbal slip.
I paused for a moment. As soon as he had asked the question I knew the answer but I didn't want to seem too morbidly curious.
"There is a place and time," I said at length, trying to sound airy.
"East London 1888, say November time?"
I could hear his mind ticking over. For all I know he was smiling. The pause lengthened. He was playing with me.
"You mean Whitechapel, of course."
I sighed. "We did the case in the first year of my law degree, Criminology Module B1," I said, defeated."You did ask..."
"So, Aileen Caddy wants to hunt down Jack the Ripper."
I felt a bit angry with his patronising tone. "No. I just want to know what it was like. Living there, through that."
The Doctor harrumphed, but I heard him half turn towards his fizzing control panel. I heard switches being thrown and the Tardis engines rumbled like distant thunder.
"Just to let you know, Aileen, in case you harbour any expectations, you most certainly do NOT capture Jack the Ripper."
Fair enough, I thought. Beneath my feet I could feel the Tardis tilt and sway as it changed course.
When we landed and I stood at the open doorway, the Doctor said, as he did with all our landings, "Well, Aileen. What do you make of it?"
It was his way of challenging what he called my enhanced senses; hearing, smell and so forth which the Doctor was sure were ultra-developed to compensate for my life-long lack of sight. It was a bit of a game if you like, although I sometimes got irritated by the Doctor treating me as a lab-rat when he knew very well where we were.
I inhaled deeply. The air was damp, and in the quantities I associated with that phenomenon called mist. Also, there was a distinct lack of carbon monoxide in the air, rather it was sooty as if from coal burning. I took a tentative dab outside with my right foot, feeling rounded cobbles. Then there was a clamping silence – no footsteps or vehicles close by – though off to my left I could hear some disturbance at a distance of 87.4 metres. Raised human voices. And they were coming to me slightly distorted, as if through a giant funnel. Ah, that was it, a tunnel. Somewhere a bell tolled.
" London, evening, late nineteenth century, probably early-winter. Misty, pre-combustion engine era. I would say you've landed the Tardis exactly where I asked, Doctor."
"Whitechapel, London. November 1888."
"And through that tunnel over there is some kind of hullabaloo."
I heard the Doctor lock the Tardis door behind us. "Then I think we had better find out what's happening."
He took my hand and we moved away, through a dripping echoing space that I guessed was a viaduct tunnel. The noise of human voices was getting louder, all jumbled and angry.
As we emerged from the tunnel the Doctor pulled us up short.
"Seems to be mob violence. A lynching in progress. There's somebody on the floor...I don't like lynchings...STOP!"
His booming shout made me jump and the noise of the mob snapped off.
"Who says stop?" echoed an angry voice.
"I do. Disperse to your homes!" The Doctor tried to inject every ounce of authority into his voice.
"You sod off! I'll be famous for this. The most famous man in all England..."
"Oh dear," murmured the Doctor, easing me protectively behind him. "I'm going to have to use the Gemstone."
The Gemstone was a bit of a mystery to me. It had been presented to the Doctor by an advanced civilization several galaxies away, before I had met him. For services rendered, apparently. Knowing the Doctor that meant he had saved at least a planet.
He wore it at his neck. It was not just ornamental. According to the Doctor it could focus kinetic energy in the mind of the wearer to produce a repelling or attracting force. However, the Doctor only used it in extremis as it could be very debilitating to the user. In fact I had only known him use it once prior to this. When we were entrapped by the Daleks in a cell on New Skaro and the Doctor had used the power of the Gemstone to demolish the cell wall to effect our escape. But the effort had nearly killed him.
Almost as soon as I was safely behind the Doctor I heard the low hum of the Gemstone, bouncing off the buildings of the street. Even though I was out of the line of fire I could feel the fringes of the energy pulse.
I could hear people cry out in fear and the thud of bodies rolling away, bowled over by the Doctor's kinetic bolt. Then there were cries of superstitious fear and the sound of receding running feet. Then silence.
The Doctor leant on me momentarily, gasping for breath. " They've gone. I'm alright, Aileen. Give me a moment. Over there, about twenty metres to the left. The victim of that mob is still on the ground..."
I gently disentangled myself. "OK, Doctor. Leave it to me."
It was 18.76 Metres to our left actually when I reached the huddled figure on the ground. I could hear its breath. Gasping and lisping at my feet.
During my travels with the Doctor I had met many variations on the human form. My instincts told me that this was another. Misshapen, asymmetric and so, so frightened.
I reached down to it. I made sure my voice was as reassuring as possible.
"Are you all right ?"
The face of a blind angel, I should say.
She leaned over me, holding out her hand to assist. She did not flinch or scream or back off.
Then I saw her eyes. Unfinished, glazed and fixed in a high cheek-boned, porcelain face flanked by tumbling fair hair. No matter. She was beautiful. It shone out of her like a beacon and I could hear it in her even, concerned voice.
She was dressed at the opposite end of the scale from the street women I had been watching. A dark jacket with turned up collar against the elements. And trousers! A woman in trousers! The first I had ever seen, even including my journeys on the continent.
I took her hand in my non-deformed left. With a struggle I managed to get to my feet.
"T-thank you," I said, feeling even more vocally clumsy than usual.
At her shoulder appeared a man.
He was tall and gaunt with angular features. Clean-shaven, he had swept back grey hair and the hint of whiskers. He was dressed in dark clothes, either black or navy blue; it was difficult to tell in this light. At his throat he wore some kind of ruby which, unless I was imagining it, seemed to glow faintly red.
All of this I took in with a glance. But the most remarkable thing was his lack of...reaction.
Most people, when they see me for the first time, cannot hide a look of pity or revulsion or both. No matter how hard they try to hide it or how long they have been preparing. It flitters across their face regardless.
But this man, as he looked at me, showed none of this. Just a normally composed face with, maybe, a hint of recognition.
He spoke to the angel. " I see you've already made the acquaintance of Mr Joseph Merrick, Aileen. Mr Merrick, this is my friend and travelling companion, Miss Aileen Caddy."
The girl called Aileen held out her hand which I touched. She was frowning, as if trying to remember something.
"Do I have you to thank for dispersing the mob?" I said to the man.
He inclined his head.
"This is the Doctor," said Aileen.
"Satan comes in many strange guises." I mused.
"Satan?" he looked startled.
"I saw you bowl over the crowd with your breath. Work of the Devil. I am ready...to go with you now..."
The man laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. "Not devilish! A kinetic trick, Mr Merrick. Nothing more."
Aileen spoke. "The crowd is coming back. I can hear police whistles..."
I could hear nothing, but her beautiful head was cocked like a hunting dog.
"We had better get you back home, Mr Merrick. The London Hospital I understand," said the mysterious Doctor.
It took us just ten minutes (9 Minutes 48 seconds actually) to reach Whitechapel Road, which housed the London Hospital. It would probably have taken barely half that but we had to allow for Mr Merrick's restricted mobility. I also had the impression that we were taking a roundabout route, down alleys and the like, probably to avoid the returning mob.
During the journey I turned over in my mind what I knew about Mr Joseph Merrick from the histories I had read. He was cruelly deformed and had come to be known as 'the Elephant Man' when he was displayed in various freak shows. His appearance was supposed to be repugnant; - but that meant nothing to me. If I remembered rightly he had gained some notoriety in later life, having been taken under the wing of some surgeon or other. Long after his death there had been books and a film of his life.
This was the man with the shambling gait and the tapping stick. It was the man that the mob had taken to be the Ripper.
By the time we had reached the hospital the route was locked into my head. Apparently this was, according to the Doctor, another of my developed sensory gifts. I had been surprised to learn that this mapping ability was not common to sighted people. It had certainly come in handy back in the labyrinthine tunnels under the city of Millenius when the Doctor had returned to foil the second Voord invasion of Marinus. Even he had been lost but I managed to lead us back to the Tardis easily enough.
I felt the mass of a large, imposing building as we walked up a crunching drive. It slipped slowly away to our right as we went down to a side entrance. Somewhere an owl hooted.
Mr Merrick fumbled with a key momentarily, then a narrow door creaked open. We went through into a small square hall and ascended two flights of stairs (12 steps on each, my mind automatically recorded). This took us some time due to Mr Merrick's mobility problems but eventually I could feel the space open out onto a long, carpeted corridor.
Mr Merrick again used a key and a door creaked open. "This is my room," he said, rather breathlessly.
The Doctor touched my arm and guided me in. "And very nice, too," he commented as I felt a gas lamp ignite. Mr Merrick shuffled across and closed the door behind us.
"Yes, I am very comfortable here."
"Although I imagine you would prefer ground-floor accommodation."
"Well...I mustn't be ungrateful. Although I have raised the matter with Dr Treves. But this is the only permanent room available."
I heard the Doctor stroke his chin. "Ah, yes. Dr Treves. Your benefactor, I understand."
"My friend," said Mr Merrick, almost reverently. "He saved me from the streets. Took me from a travelling show. Saved me from those monsters..."
"Monsters?" I asked.
"The showmen who just wanted to earn a quick penny. I was put on display in penny-gaffs; caged like an animal..."
He broke off as footsteps approached from the corridor. Short hurried footsteps. I heard them clearly and immediately measured the pace at 49 cm which my brain translated to a man of about 5 feet 10 inches tall (it was, of course, a man. No swish of skirts).
The door was opened without any preamble. Rather it was thrown open. I could hear the slightly panting breath of the newcomer framed in the doorway. This, added to the way he had barged in without a by-your-leave added up to anger.
"It is true then, John. You have been out again tonight. And guests so I see." The newcomer was trying to retain control of his voice but his anger seeped out around the edges.
I heard the Doctor get to his feet. "Dr Frederick Treves, I assume."
"You have the advantage of me, sir."
"T-This is the Doctor and his companion, Miss Caddy," said Mr Merrick nervously.
"Doctor? From which hospital ?"
"I am not a doctor of medicine"
"Then what, pray, is your interest in John Merrick?" The voice fairly bristled.
"They saved me," interjected Mr Merrick. "From the mob."
Dr Treves tutted. "How many times must I counsel you, John. You know how dangerous it is for you out there at this hour in the current climate. Have I not asked you to consult me first?"
"You will forgive me, Dr Treves, I did not realise Mr Merrick was a prisoner of this establishment." The Doctor's voice was silky, but cold.
"Prisoner? No, sir."
"Oh, then if he wants to walk abroad I take it he is able to do so. It is a free country is it not?"
Dr Treves let his breath out in a hiss. "The streets are very dangerous at present for the likes of John. I am grateful that you helped him back here but the hour is late -"
"Indeed it is. Perhaps you would like to explain why you are yourself up and about at such a time, Dr Treves."
"If it is any of your business , Doctor whoever-you-are, I have just completed a double shift on the surgical wards." He broke off. "Just what are you implying,sir?"
"Oh, nothing really," said the Doctor, breezily.
"Perhaps we should continue this conversation in my office. I would be interested in your background, Doctor."
"I'm sure you would. There's a few things I would like to say to you as well." I felt the Doctor turn to me. "I won't be long, Aileen." And with that the two men left the room, the door banging shut behind them.
"Would you like tea, Miss Caddy?"
"That would be great. I don't think those two hit it off."
"Dr Treves has been very kind but he can sometimes be a little over-protective. Sugar? The cup is at your left hand."
"Yes, I know, No sugar for me, thanks. What did you mean by 'penny gaffs, earlier on?"
"Freakshows If you could see me you would understand. I lived in hovels mostly, cages sometimes. This is a palace compared to them"
"I was an exhibit. People paid money just to come and see me"
"I think it makes them feel good. However poor or wretched they are they are better off than me. People are frightened by the way I look. Just like that mob earlier on. I look monstrous to them. Therefore I must be a monster We lock up monsters, don't we?"
"But I have no concept of how you 'look', Mr Merrick. Beauty, ugliness...they are just abstract terms to me."
"I envy you that."
"And I envy you your vision."
"That's the first time that anyone has told me they envied me for anything."
"It's the truth. You see, I'm on a mission, Mr Merrick. I travel with the Doctor because I believe that he will sometime explain 'colours' to me. It is something I have never been able to imagine. It's the same with beauty. Can you explain beauty to me?"
"If only you could look into a mirror, Miss Caddy. You are the first girl I have ever talked to like this. The first who has never judged me by appearance alone. Oh I've talked to some society women. Dr Treves introduced me to some of his friends. He had obviously prepared them but I could still see it in their faces..."
"What's the matter?"
"I-I've just realised. Perhaps I'm still in a cage after all..."
"Mr Merrick. You are not a monster. Believe me I've met many monsters in my travels with the Doctor. You are a thinking man, with a brain just like anyone else. If you wanted to walk out of here right now nobody could stop you. Hardly a cage in my experience."
"And what about the mob out there? They would kill me. They nearly did tonight. I am taken for the Ripper."
"They are unthinking, instinctive. If they only applied a little logic..."
"Well, the Ripper is obviously mobile, skilled in his...dissections...able to roam the district, make his escape."
"Not handicapped like me, you mean?"
"Well, I wouldn't have put it like that exactly..."
"But you are right of course. I am not the Ripper."
"I never thought you were...just a moment...someone's coming."
The door was flung open again and the Doctor stood there. He smiled at Aileen but he looked a little flushed. "I'm afraid we must be going now, Aileen." He said.
"Must you?" I was empty at the thought.
He sighed. "I am afraid Dr Treves and I have had a little...difference of opinion. He has threatened to call the local constabulary unless we are off the premises."
Aileen drained her cup and placed it unerringly on the saucer. She rose, turning slightly towards me."I am pleased to have met and talked with you, Mr Merrick." She held out her right hand. I responded by holding out my left but she brushed it away and gently took my deformed right hand in hers, as if holding a wounded bird.
I looked down wonderingly, unable to reply.
"You are not a monster," she whispered. "Don't ever forget that." She moved over to the doorway.
"Good luck with your quest." I said. She paused, turning. "Colours."
Aileen smiled and raised her hand briefly, then was gone.
I never saw my angel again.
The Doctor hustled me quickly down the coridoor and back down the two flights of stairs and out through the side entrance. When we were walking down the crunchy drive in the night air I asked him about his 'difference of opinion' with Dr Treves.
"Oh, he accused me of trying to turn Mr Merrick against him. I called him a monster.."
"A monster? That's a bit strong isn't it? Unless...well I remember reading that he was once a fit for the Ripper profile..."
The Doctor snorted. "Treves? No he's not the Ripper. He dies a comfortable death in Switzerland some thirty years from now. A baronet no less."
"Then why a monster?"
"Well, he rescued Mr Merrick, certainly. But is he any better than those freakshowmen? Treves exhibited Mr Merrick for his society friends, hawked him round his medical societies. Made his reputation by him it seems to me."
We reached the hospital gates and paused.
"But Mr Merrick was given shelter, security. Hardly the actions of a monster."
The Doctor sighed. "Perhaps you are right, Aileen. But I can't forgive Treves one thing."
"Mr Merrick's name. You heard him didn't you. Treves called him John. He did so in his memoires."
"He couldn't even get his name right..." The Doctor's arm touched my shoulder."Do you still want to stay here..."
I shuddered against the icy breeze. Somewhere a bell tolled.
We started off, back to the Tardis, through the silent cloying mist.
After a short while an alarm went off inside my head. "This isn't the way back to the Tardis."
"No. We are taking a small detour," replied the Doctor. "Ah, here we are." We were standing inside what I took to be a small alley. Off to my left I could hear the clip-clopping off a horse and the squeak of a wheel, both suddenly pulling to a halt.
"A hansom cab," murmured the Doctor in my ear.
I heard the descending swish of skirts, probably twenty metres away. To my right, much closer was a furtive scrape of leather boots on cobbles. I turned to say something to the Doctor but he placed a shushing finger on my lips.
The furtive footsteps moved closer.
I stand in the shadows. Watching. Lurking.
It is another misty evening in the old city. It deadens the sound, this mist that aspires to be a pea-souper. A silence has descended on this empty street. There is just me...and her.
She stands in the centre of the road, unmoving, her back to me, dressed in the finery of a noblewoman. A long dark cloak over, no doubt, finest lace. On the edge of my vision the shape of her waiting hansom.
Oh yes, this one would be different. A touch of class instead of those ten-a-penny whores.
Still, they all look the same, inside-out.
I take my trusted blade from my pocket and steal towards her a few paces. She does not move.
Off to my left I hear it. A breath. Standing in the lee of an alley I see them. Two figures. A man and girl standing together, watching me. He is grey-haired, tall and thin dressed in dark clothing. At his throat a ruby gem burns. The girl is blonde, a beauty...except for her eyes which are unfinished and gaze every-which way.
This stranger and his blind companion are motionless, but my prey has turned to face me and I catch my breath. Monsters roam the streets and she is one. A standing lizard-woman faces me. A woman of scales.
I cannot move for the shock.
Then, from her mouth, comes a great grey tongue, unfurling through the air like a monstrous whip.
It coils around my neck, choking off my cry. It tightens. I am dragged off my feet towards her. Through my bulging eyes I see the man and girl silently standing in the alleyway. They are holding hands now but do not lift a finger to save me.
They are ghouls.
Anyone who would like to read about Aileen and the '13th' Doctor's first meeting should check out my anthology story 'Tontine' part 11. The fate of 'Jack the Ripper' as depicted above is as alluded to in the 11th Doctor's TV story, 'A Good Man Goes to War'.