"Roll up, roll up!" called out
the barker, as though he thought the crowd was an obstinate
blind. "See all the great horrors of the earth, gathered
together under the same roof, for the first time
"It's all a jib, mister," said
the fair-haired girl, tugging at the sleeve of the man's suit, as
he stopped to listen to the spieler reeling off names as he
pointed to obscure portraits upon an age-worn poster that was
sewn onto the side of the great circus tent, before which he
stood, upon a small, wooden dais.
"See the bearded lady..." he
said, starting off small. It was an old gimmick: the gradual
building up to the main attraction.
"It's been stuck on hair by
hair," said the girl.
"See the bird
"See the human
"See the lizard
"All just fancy dress costumes,
"All the great horrors of the
earth, gathered together under the same roof for the first time
ever!" he repeated. It was a well rehearsed spiel that he knew
"See the bat
"It's a phony, mister. You
can tell if you look real close. Not that they ever let you get
close enough to be sure. They keep you well back, behind a
"See the beetle
"A phony!" repeated the girl,
more insistently than before.
"All the great horrors of the
earth...!" It was like a broken phonograph record. "See
"Monster me eye! It's a man
"See the legendary golem! See
the head of the Medusa...!"
"Both jibs," insisted the girl,
tugging at the man's sleeve again. "The golem's just a man with
mud slinged over 'im, and the Medusa head's just a life-like
"See the snake
"The scales are glued
"See the panther man from
deepest, darkest Africa!"
"Anyone can throw a panther
skin over 'imself and say 'e's a panther man."
"See Joseph Merrick, the
Elephant Man himself, on display for the first time anywhere in
the world in more than ten years...All for the price of two
shillings; one small florin."
The crowd gasped audibly when
the spieler said the magic words: Joseph Merrick, the
Elephant Man. But the girl was unimpressed; "Ain't no
freak, mister, only poxed; poxed up with sickness!"
"Not even that, lass," said the
tall, dark-haired man, running one finger through his thick,
walrus moustache. "It isn't even Merrick. Joseph Merrick has been housed at the
London Hospital for nearly four years, since December
"There you are, mister." said
the girl. "Like I been tellin' you, it's all a jib. Now you
don't wanna pay out a whole florin just to be jibbed, do
She paused for a moment to let
the statement sink in, then added, "Particularly when you can see
the real thing, for only a sixpence!"
The man stared down at the
girl, trying to make out her features among the flickering
shadows thrown around by the kerosene lamps. The girl was
thirteen or fourteen; fair-haired and blue-eyed, with a slightly
beaked nose and a trouble-worn face; extremely thin, almost
emaciated, with an anaemic complexion.
"What sort of a freak?" asked
"I can't 'ardly just come out
and tell you out in the open like. Everyone could hear; might
start a panic!"
"I see," said the man, turning
to walk away.
"But I tell you what I'll do,
mister, you can come with me now to see it, and you won't 'ave to
pay me till after."
The man stopped in mid stride
and half turned back toward the girl, raising a questioning
"That's right, mister, you can
see the freak first, then pay me my sixpence afterwards. That
way, if it's not all on the up-and-up, you won't 'ave to pay
nothin' at all. Can't hardly be nothin' fairer than that, now
"All right, lass, lead the
way," said the man, impressed by the girl's offer: For all he
knew she could be telling the truth, true freaks did exist, so
perhaps the girl had somehow stumbled onto one.
* * *
Down the dark and narrow
cobbled streets the girl led him, apparently unawares of the
oppressive atmosphere of the dim-lit streets, where the
flickering gas lights threw up wild and changing shadows, which
threatened to leap out and grab them; past the row upon row of
drab, twin-level, semi-detached hovels; past the dingy ale houses
(the Golden Giant; the Blue Elf; the Wild Man Inn; the Sailor's
Arms) unheeding of the lusty cries and bawdy laughter from
within, the brawling drunks and hustling proprietors without
("the best little inn in all o' London!" they had been assured on
at least a half dozen occasions); past the painted streetwalkers
who winked brazenly in the man's direction, their ample bosoms
threatening to tumble free from their low cut bodices, they
journeyed, moving ever further and further from the heart of
"We seem to have strayed quite,
a distance from the City," said the man. "Are you quite certain
it is safe all the way down here?"
"Don't worry, mister, I won't
let nothin' happen to you."
The man was less than reassured
by the girl's words, yet what choice did he have but to go on?
Clearly the girl could not be persuaded to turn back, and the man
possessed no knowledge of that part of London. So he did the only thing he could under
the circumstances: he went on, blindly trailing after the
The streets grew darker as the
gas lights became farther apart, the further they moved away from
Greater London. After awhile they had left behind
completely the relative safety of the narrow streets, to speed
recklessly down the slim, high-walled back lanes, perfect targets
for any muggers as they stumbled blindly across the moonlit
From time to time as he began
to believe he was well and truly lost, the man heard the girl's
voice call out, "Over here, mister." Then heading off in the
direction of the voice, he could not help thinking that the call
would also guide any would-be muggers who might be lurking in the
When at last they stopped, they
stood outside a white-washed warehouse upon a dilapidated pier.
The girl pulled away two loose planks in the warehouse wall and
indicated with a wave of her hand that the man should step
through. "After you, mister."
The man hesitated, suspecting a
trap. "Why all the way down here?" he wondered, looking down at
his feet as though addressing the river that swish-swished
beneath the ancient grey-brown timbers of the aged
"Down here, mister? I don't
The man looked up, startled,
unaware that he had spoken aloud. "I said, why all the way down
here, so far from anywhere? Why doesn't your friend live back
there?" He indicated with a vague sweep of his hand where he
imagined Greater London to be.
"Back there among the gaping
crowds? My friend is afraid of the crowds."
The man could understand what
the girl meant: Years earlier, Joseph Merrick had tried to live
amongst the human race and had been persecuted day and night by
the crowds. Young children had laughed and pointed at him;
grown men had gasped in horror; women had screamed or fainted.
The police had hounded Merrick from town to town.
So with the howling wind at his
back, daring him to go on, the man stepped through the hole in
the warehouse wall. He heard the two planks fall back into
place behind him and realised that the girl had stayed outside on
At first he imagined himself to
be alone in the room and wondered what was going on.
"Scarpered," he thought. But then he realised the idea made no
sense, since he had not yet paid the girl for her
He had started to think that
the whole thing had been an elaborate practical joke, when
another thought came to mind, Ambush! "There are most
likely three or four of them waiting in the dark for me to step
away from the loose boards!" he thought. Knowing that in
the dark he would never locate the loose planks again in a hurry,
he stood his ground and waited.
After a few minutes his eyes
began to become accustomed to the meagre moonlight admitted to
the room by way of the small, four-paned window opposite, which
looked out over the river. And he was able to make out the eyes
of the other being in the room. The eyes were yellow and seemed
to shine in the dark, making the man wonder if the "freak" was a
wild animal of some kind. "Cats' eyes shine in the dark!" he
thought, for a moment wondering whether the girl had somehow
captured a big cat. Tigers, panthers, and even lions had been
known to roam the English countryside after escaping from
travelling animal circuses (or after being released by
unscrupulous owners of travelling menageries which had run into
But as his eyes continued to
adjust to the dark, he could vaguely make out the figure of a
man, sitting on the floor at the opposite end of the
"I hope you don't mind," he
apologised, starting to walk across the warehouse. "But the
girl said it would be all right...?"
"Yes, of course," the other
acknowledged. Its voice was smooth and cultured, not at all the
illiterate mumble that the man had expected to hear. "She is a
good girl, at heart, is young Sheila Kelly. She takes care of
me, feeds me, tends to my needs, helps me to keep out of
"Keep out of trouble?" asked
the man. He was still walking slowly across the
"I ... I used to be a doctor
... Before the trouble started," explained the "freak". "Doctor
Jonathan Thomas Meiklejohn, of Harley Street. Quite popular I was too ... Particularly
with the ladies." He sighed deeply, then continued, "But that
was my trouble, of course, I couldn't keep my hands off the
The man found himself blushing
from embarrassment, wondering whether the freak he had walked
halfway across London (or so it seemed) to see, would turn out to
be nothing more than a fallen doctor who had been struck off the
medical register after some impropriety with one of his female
"I suppose you could say it was
my bedside manner that got me into trouble," Dr. Meiklejohn
continued. "Not that I ever touched any of my own patients, you
understand," he hastened to explain, to the surprise of the man
who had thought that was what he was about to confess
"No!" assured the doctor,
realising what his visitor had been thinking. "No, even I was
not quite that stupid ... Although who knows, given enough time
maybe I would even have risked that ... If I had continued to get
away with it long enough.
"No, it was the ladies of the
night who were my weakness," he explained. Then in case the man
was too innocent to understand, "Prostitutes.
streetwalkers. They were my
weakness. I couldn't keep my hands off them."
The man blushed from
embarrassment again, grateful that the darkness of the old
warehouse concealed his discomfort from Dr. Meiklejohn. As he
had listened to the doctor's tale, he had continued to slowly
walk across the warehouse until he was only a few yards away.
In the poor light it was difficult to see, however, he could just
make out the fact that the doctor was sitting on his hands in a
strange hunched up position and wondered whether his body had
been misshapen by the ravages of some venereal disease picked up
from the East End prostitutes? He almost put his thoughts into
words, but then thought better of the question.
"Not that I was with a
different woman every night, or anything like that, you
understand," Dr. Meiklejohn hastened to explain. "In a way I
was quite restrained. There were only five of them: Mary, Anne,
Liz, Catherine, and Mary Jane. Over a ten week period, give or
take a day or two. I can still remember that much quite
clearly, even after two years. Not that there wasn't reason
enough. It made quite a splash in all the newspapers, on the
front page of every paper in London for ten weeks without fail....
"Then came the fall ... After
Mary Jane. Mary Jane was Sheila's mother. Not that it was
ever reported in the newspapers that she had a
"Sheila was only eleven at the
time, now she is thirteen. But still old enough to understand
what was happening when she saw me with her mother that
The man blushed again in
embarrassment at the thought of young Sheila seeing her mother
coupling for money with Dr Meiklejohn.
"Afterwards I fled the house
and made my way through the dark streets, carefully crouching as
I ran to hide from sight any stains on my garments from my
activities with Mary Jane. And made my way here, to this
deserted warehouse on a broken down wharf. Where I could
quickly change out of my old, soiled clothes into fresh clean
clothing, before heading for home."
"It ... it seems a long way to
come from the heart of the City, just to change your clothes,"
said the man. He was surprised when the comment brought hearty
peels of laughter from Dr. Meiklejohn.
"Yes, yes a long way to come
just to change my clothes," agreed the doctor before bursting
Blushing again at the laughter,
which he realised was at his expense, although he did not
understand the cause, the man said, "Yes, well, it is getting
very late, and I have a long way to go before...."
"No! No, please don't go
yet!" pleaded the doctor, attempting to rise up toward his
visitor, only to fall back clumsily onto the wooden floor of the
warehouse. "I so rarely get intelligent people to converse
with. And, as often as I have told my tale over the last two
years, I do so need to tell it again. To unburden myself of the
guilt that I have carried around with me for so long."
"Yes, yes, of course if you
like," said the man. Stepping forward again he gasped from
shock, as for the first time he could make out the features of
Dr. Meiklejohn, and saw that despite his soft, cultured voice,
the doctor was indeed a freak. His face a horrid mass of
weeping sores and ugly gashes. As though for many years he had
been the victim of some weird South African malady. The man
could not help recalling his earlier thoughts of the Elephant
man, and wondered whether the doctor had also fallen victim to
some grotesque, debilitating disease.
"I had fled down here after
each of the other occasions," continued Meiklejohn, "but this
time, unbeknown to me, I was followed. Young Sheila had seen me
with her mother and came after me. Quite an accomplishment
really, all this way without me ever once suspecting that I was
He paused for a moment, bowed
his head as though sleeping, then looked up at his visitor again
and said, "I hurriedly changed into a clean suit I had concealed
in the warehouse earlier that night. I had just finished
changing when I heard the sound of movement behind me. I
started to turn, too late, and felt a thud on the back of my
head, then was overwhelmed by darkness. When I came to, who
knows how much later, I found myself in chains...."
The man gasped from shock, for
the first time noticing that the reason for the doctor's awkward
posture was not some physical deformity, but heavy steel manacles
attached to his arms and legs.
"But where did she...?" began
the man, cut off in mid sentence as Dr Meiklejohn explained,
"Many years ago, when the United States still traded in slaves,
this wharf was used as a stopover point for slavers to purchase
goods to barter to Africa for Negroes to transport back to the
USA. When slavery was outlawed, the slavers left behind these
chains and other remnants of their trade."
"You mean to say she did this
to you just for sleeping with her mother?" asked the man in
"No, not sleeping with her,"
corrected Sheila, startling the visitor, who had not realised
that she had entered the warehouse behind him. "Not sleeping
with her ... Killing her!"
"Killing her?" repeated the
man, suddenly recalling why the name Mary Jane had sounded so
familiar to him. "Mary Jane Kelly!" he thought.
"Killing her and slicing her up
like a butcher slicing meat," cried Sheila holding up a
lethal-looking scalpel. "With this!"
"But you've had your revenge!"
screamed the doctor, struggling frantically against the manacles
that bound him in place, as the teenage girl advanced toward him,
still holding the gleaming scalpel in her hands.
"Yes, many times," agreed the
girl, making the man back away in terror, as he realised what had
really caused the horrid mutilation of the doctor's face. "And
I'll have it many times more. In the years ahead!"
"Please, please help me!"
shrieked Dr Meiklejohn, but the man had already started to back
away for fear the girl would come after him.
But he had no cause for alarm.
Sheila was intent only on her victim, knowing that even if the
man went to the police he could never locate the dilapidated
warehouse again without her help. Not that the police were
likely to believe him anyway if he went to them with a wild tale
about a thirteen-year old girl who had Jack the Ripper chained up
in a disused warehouse, brutally torturing him with the same
scalpel he had used to murder five East End prostitutes in late
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