Armitage - Chapter 8 - The Inhuman Truth (Part 2 of 3)
Anyone who is familiar with vampire lore will know that once you invite one of these creatures into your home you are powerless to stop them, no matter what evil they intend to commit, and they are able to enter at will. Through my time as one of these wretched beasts I have learned that this rule seems not to apply to all buildings, it seems only applicable to one’s home. Of course at the time I knew very little of vampires, knowing just what the average layman knew from the childhood tales that were spoken around the world, I never thought I would need to know more.
The evening itself was pleasant enough, any awkwardness at the short notice of the invitation evaporating quickly as the stranger became acquainted with both Catherine and Isabelle, who seemed to like him in return. He did not trouble Hilda, our cook, for very much food, so the inconvenience was minimal, and upon saying goodbye to the man I thought the impromptu dinner had gone rather well, but Catherine was not so easily taken in. As soon as our front door was closed she turned to me with a most irritated expression and asked me what I was thinking bringing someone to dinner at such short notice. Once again I found myself struggling to come up with a decent explanation for my actions, and once again I faltered, and when I told Catherine that our mysterious dinner guest was also the reason why I was late back from the club some weeks before she decided that she did not trust him and felt it best if I did not consort with such types. I could have argued the point that I did not seek out this man’s company, but I did so hate arguing with Catherine so I consented to her wishes and no more was said on the matter, ever.
I had every intention of following Catherine’s request to the letter, but the next time I stopped in at my club on the way home from my shop there he was again. I decided to use one of the smaller side rooms to read the newspaper and was turning around to leave but it was too late, he had seen me. He got up instantly from the armchair he was occupying and walked over to me with surprising speed, as if he could tell I wanted to leave. I attempted to make some feeble excuse that would allow me to leave but he seemed adamant that I stay. I tried to resist but before I knew it I was idly handing my hat and coat once again to the attendant and following my companion to the table where he was sat. Mary Jane Kelly had lost her life to the Ripper just days before and naturally it was all over the press, and my new friend (it pains me to refer to him as such) seemed most eager to discuss the killing and indeed the whole case. I stayed and talked for as long as I thought was polite, but when I tried again to excuse myself and leave the man completely changed the subject, offering his apologies for imposing on myself and my family in regards to coming to dinner. I said it was perfectly all right, but he insisted that he repay me by inviting me to dinner. I tried to respectfully decline but he said he felt it his duty to return my kindness and that he would take no refusals. So as not to seem rude I accepted, another mistake.
As we gathered ourselves to leave I called an attendant over and asked if a message could be relayed to Catherine that I would be delayed. I did not include exactly where I was going in the message, as I did not want Catherine to worry, and handing the hastily scribbled note to the attendant my companion and I made our way to the front entrance. Upon opening the door that led on to the now darkened street I saw a black carriage approach and stop just in front of us. A man of Mediterranean complexion climbed out of the canopied driver’s seat and held the door for both his employer and myself, and with a crack of his whip we were on our way. As I sat back in the plush interior of the carriage I noticed that there were no windows, a small oil lamp provided the necessary illumination for my companion and I to see each other, and the shadows that were cast on the other man’s face unnerved me somewhat. The light falling on his gaunt features gave his face a skull-like quality that looking back was eerily appropriate, for he was Death, and I was completely within his grasp.
We sat in silence as the carriage wended its way through the streets of London, the noise of the horses and the occasional crack of the whip the only real sounds to be heard, and with no windows in the carriage I quickly became aware that I did not know where we were, or indeed where we were going. The journey lasted long enough for me to assume we had passed through at least two districts and when we stopped for a moment and I heard the driver get down from the carriage I heard a gate being opened. The carriage jolted back into motion briefly and then stopped again, the driver dismounting for a second time, closing the gate behind him. Another short burst of movement and the carriage stopped for the final time, the door then being opened by the driver.
‘Welcome to my home,’ he said. ‘Dinner will be a short while, in the meantime allow me to give you the tour.’ Standing before me was a grand, three storey building of elegant design, and as I walked the short distance from the carriage to the front door, the gravel of the driveway crunching underneath my shoes, I looked over my shoulder and saw the house was set in small but attractive grounds, a wrought iron fence with double gates encircling the house. The man’s driver stood by the open front door and remained motionless as we both passed through, closing it quickly behind him. The interior of the house was well appointed and reflected the sophistication that its owner seemed to exude, and as we made our way down the hallway the driver disappeared through a side door.
‘He is seeing to dinner,’ he explained after noticing my quizzical look.
‘Do you not have a cook?’ I asked, surprised that a house this large did not have more staff.
‘I have no need for such things,’ he said with a wave of his hand. ‘My man is most reliable.’ We continued on throughout the house, me being shown the various artefacts that had been collected on his travels, and it was all very interesting, but once again the conversation turned to the Ripper killings.
‘I hear that the Ripper has sent one of the victims’ kidneys to the police,’ I said, retelling a rumour that had filtered into my shop.
‘Indeed? How inventive,’ he said, sounding almost impressed.
‘The man’s clearly a lunatic,’ I said. ‘I sincerely hope they catch him soon. Not a corner of London is safe until they do.’
‘Oh come now,’ he said, with a strange smile on his face. ‘So far he has only preyed on ladies of the night, has he not?’
‘Then I would not worry, my friend, as you do not appear to be one of them.’ I smiled slightly at the joke, but the man’s jovialness at such a morbid topic startled me. I wondered at the time how anyone could be so flippant in the face of such brutality, but now I know that he was playing with me, toying with me as a cat would a mouse before the fatal blow was struck.