The City of London, ancient as the ground it stands on, modern as the towering strange buildings it has seemingly manufactured out of nothing, has more than its share of graveyards.
The worker and casual visitor to the Square Mile, where money changes hands at an alarming rate, where fortunes are made and lost, where the Bank of England sits like the old lady she has been likened to and holds on to the riches she has acquired over the countless years of being in the centre of the Square Mile of commerce, are not always aware of them.
Most cities never sleep, but this one does. This one closes down at night, leaving the rats and strays to haunt the narrow alleyways, the wide affluent streets, the banks of the great never sleeping river Thames. The vagrants shuffle into marked chosen doorways with their newspaper blankets and cardboard walls, which they zealously and jealously guard; newspapers, cardboard and doorways, that is, to settle down for the night; so much litter swept to one side, so much misery wrapped in paper and tied with string.
In Temple, haunt of barristers and clerks and worried litigants, the gas lamps sing their litany of warmth and light to nothing but empty courtyards and silent Chambers. The drinking place alongside the great City church lets its lamps invite in those who have money to buy their way to oblivion, if that be their wish, but who close early most nights for lack of custom.
Into that strange half-haunted world come the non-people.
The City, graveyards, buried rivers and deep sewers once worked in by men called toshers who searched the murky disgusting depths for money, rags, bones and any other treasures that could be found, is a natural place for the non-people to live. Their homes have long since been disturbed, their memorials left leaning against walls or built into the walls themselves, a token nod to their memory. They come seeking revenge and retribution and remembrance.
It is surprising how few know that the bodysnatchers plied their trade there, resurrecting corpses for the anatomists in the great City hospitals, especially Barts.
Few know that among those who called themselves non-people are those who live on blood. Non-people who take on the cloak of humans in order to get what they want and need. Humans that are mostly ignored or scorned.
Those who trespass into the City at night find this out at their cost – the ultimate cost, their lives.
The night was drawing in when Karl stumbled into the City from the West End, drunk, heartbroken and lost. He had one thing left in his pocket, the ring his bride-to-be had thrown in his face during a bitter argument in St. James’s Park. She had stormed off in one direction; he had stormed off in the other, and sought consolation for his sorrows in the nearest pub. He then ended up walking without realising or even caring where he went. The words they had thrown at one another over some stupid, infinitesimally small item were of such bitterness and ferocity it was clear they could never speak to one another again. Somewhere in his drunken stupor, Karl realised that it was not the item which had caused the row but long built up tensions which had finally exploded. Better before the wedding than after, he tried to console himself.
It didn’t work.
The City was quiet, only his heels disturbing the night as he stomped his way down Cheapside, heading for who knew where? Alone in a city of towering heartless buildings, shuttered and barred for the night, offices which held the secrets of millions of people in its archives and databases, vaults which held wealth beyond belief, especially those of the jewellers in Hatton Garden – ah, if he only had the skills to break in, to handle the beautiful gems and elegant pieces, if only, if only...
In a moment he was stone cold sober. The ring in his pocket seemed to be burning its way through the cloth, heating his skin. He pulled it out and went to throw it, but stopped. The diamond was worth something, the gold was worth something, why throw it away? Why not choose someone worthy of having it as a gift ... one of these vagrants, stinking and snoring in a doorway? Why not be truly magnanimous and give the gift of a lifetime to someone, change their future forever? Well, perhaps that was going a little too far but still...
He had no need of it. He could not bring himself to walk into a jeweller's and sell it, for they would know what had happened, and pride, that all enveloping sin, would not let him do that, not allow someone to smile sympathetically and wish him better luck next time. Best to give it away and start over again – if there was a next time.
But which one of the human flotsam could he give it to? Why was one more deserving than another?
Random luck, he told himself, like winning the lottery, sometimes they draw the lucky number, the rest of the time, for some, the rest of their lives, they don’t.
He stopped by a particularly savage looking drunk, long grey hair tied back with string, huge shaggy beard, incredibly lined face and gnarled twisted hands clutching the newspaper tightly to his body. The night was not cold, but habit dies hard.
‘Hey you!’ Karl nudged the sleeping man with his highly polished shoe, provoking a grunt that could have been ‘clearorff’ or something vulgar. He couldn’t quite make out the words. He tried again. ‘Look, I’ve got something for you.’
The eyes flicked open and for a moment Karl felt intense fear for they were black and soulless. Then the man blinked and the face changed.
‘What’d’r’yer want then? I was kipping.’
‘I want to give you something. I don’t want it any more, it’s worth a lot of money and I chose you to give it to.’
‘What is it?’
Karl held out the ring and the man took it, suspiciously turning it every way he could.
‘What’s the catch?’
‘No catch. I broke up with my fiancé and that’s it, end of relationship. I don’t want to sell the ring, I want to give it to someone else to sell.’
‘No one gives someone sommat for nuffink. What do you want me to do for it?’
‘Nothing.’ Karl was beginning to despair; the man was not grateful, just suspicious. ‘Look, it’s not stolen or anything, just take it and in the morning see if you can trade it for money to help you live.’
‘Now who’s gonna believe I got this legit?’
Karl was baffled. It was something he hadn’t thought of, not for a moment. Of course, how could someone looking and smelling like that walk into a jeweller’s and trade the ring for cash?
He made up his mind in that moment. ‘All right. I’ll remember you. I’ll be back in the morning. I’ll sell the ring myself and bring you the money.’
The teeth were stained and black but they still showed themselves in a grim smile. The vagrant grabbed Karl’s arm in a tight vicious grip. ‘I’ll wait for you.’
‘I will be back.’
‘Don’t you go ratting on me. You don’t promise me a lifeline and then rat on me. I’ll wait for you.’
Nodding, Karl stuffed the ring back in his pocket and walked swiftly away. He knew the doorway, he knew the man; he would return.
Taxis disappear at night from the City, for there are no passengers to hail them and be taken to distant destinations. The taxi drivers can make a killing by driving by theatres and nightclubs instead. Karl knew he would have to get to the Underground to go home. Mansion House, perhaps? But his footsteps were not taking him to an Underground station. He didn’t quite know where he was going; it seemed drink and sorrow were combining to send him wandering aimlessly down narrow streets that held menace in every darkened window and doorway, taunting him with glimpses of civilisation, street lights and occasional cars, but he could not quite make his way to them.
He stumbled into what he thought was a small park, until he saw the gravestones around the walls. Oh what the hell, he thought, I’ll just...
The morning sun touched his red rimmed eyes and woke him. Dishevelled and hung over, he somehow staggered to his feet, trying to brush dirt and early morning dew from his once fine suit. His throat was raw and his stomach screamed for something, anything, to stop the sick feeling which was consuming him. Too late, it had to come out.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered to whoever the headstone commemorated. ‘You know how it is...’
He reached for a handkerchief and realised the pocket was empty. The ring had gone. Somewhere in the dark hours someone had robbed him; his wallet, his watch and the ring had gone.
‘NO!’ he roared into the silent morning, startling the birds into frantic squawking song in the trees. ‘NO!’ Fear gripped him, turning him to ice. He saw the soulless eyes of the vagrant, heard the menace in the voice, ‘I will wait for you.’ A voice that in that moment was not that of a vagrant drunk, but a cultured being, one with strength, one with purpose ... one who meant what he said.
I have to go and explain...
Was that not foolish? A sane voice in his head questioned the decision. The man knows not who you are. Go home. Walk if you must. Report the theft to the police at least, get them to take you home. Forget the vagrant.
‘I will wait for you.’
He couldn’t. Something was drawing him back to the doorway, to the man whose life he promised to change – and would dismally fail to do so.
Somehow he got himself moving; somehow he knew he had to find his way back. He had no idea where he was, but he thought if he let his subconscious work out the direction, he would be there in no time, not like the meandering aimless walk he had taken the night before. That was nothing but a jumbled memory anyway.
The sour taste of vomit in his mouth, hair awry and clothes wrecked, Karl staggered into the street and began to walk, letting his feet take him where they would.
And sure enough he was heading back to the building he remembered. And sure enough the vagrant was there, sitting up, alert, anticipating.
‘Too damn early for you to have sold the ring,’ he growled as Karl walked up to him. ‘And you look like sommat the dog brought in from the dump.’
‘I ... fell asleep in a graveyard last night and someone robbed me.’
‘Right. Good story. Some ghoul came out of his grave and took the ring, did he?’
‘Ring, wallet, watch, everything.’
The vagrant began to laugh. ‘Right, mister, like I believe that story. Going back on your promise, then, are you?’
‘I can’t – I need to go home. I can find money and bring it back to you. I promise!’
The man stood up, towering over Karl. He had not appreciated how tall the man was; curled up in the doorway he looked small, almost insignificant. Now he revealed himself as over six foot and broad with it. The fear Karl had experienced in the graveyard was nothing to what he felt in that moment.
‘You know what the old highwaymen used’ta say, dontcha? Your money or your life. You tell me you got no money, so – ’
Karl’s lifeless, bloodless body lay in the doorway for several hours before someone found him and reported the death to the police. The autopsy revealed not a drop of blood remained in his veins.
BIO: Dorothy Davies is a writer, medium and editor who lives on the delightful Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. There she writes her strange stories, usually with the help of spirit authors. This one, she says, was written with the help of Bela Lugosi who was not only a talented horror actor but also a very good writer with an infinite supply of strange and chilling tales. Dorothy is a full member of the Fictioneers and editor and contributor to many Static Movement anthologies. She loves to write. You can read more from Dorothy here: www.oneinspecyal.comand herewww.circle-of-light.co.uk