a short story by Oliver Seay
It was around 3:00 AM when Mary Jane was interrupted in her preperations for bed by an insistent knocking at her door. Cursing, she stumbled across the floor of her dingy one-room flat. She had been drinking earlier, and still wasn't quite sober.
It took her a minute to recognise the child standing in the doorway, a rather grubby looking girl of about twelve or thirteen, dressed in boys' clothing and shivering in the cold November air.
"Jaquelin Prater, what the hell are you doing here?" she asked angrily.
"I'm sorry to be bothering you like this," the girl said, "but my mum's entertaining again and she said I had to get out. I didn't know no place else to go."
"So Liz found herself a means of support for the evening, eh? Well, come on in then, this ain't no fit place for a child to be out at night. Especially with the goings on around here lately."
The girl stepped into the room and as she went to sit down Mary Jane leaned outside and quickly looked right, then left as though she expected to see someone lurking in the shadows of Dorset Street. After a moment she drew back inside and closed the door.
"Ain't it just horrible," the girl was saying, "My mum says she don't know why the police don't catch him already."
Mary Jane turned and saw that the girl had taken the room's one chair. She sighed softly to herself as she crossed the room.
"The police don't care nothing for us down here," she said, "All they care about is making their precious reports so they look good to London."
Their conversation was the same as that in almost all the households of that neighborhood at that time. It concerned the "Whitechapel Horrors", a series of grusome murders comitted within the last four months and all in that general area.
"They say he calls himself Jack the Ripper now," the girl said, nervously turning to look out the window.
Mary Jane, who had begun to doze off, opened her eyes and noticed the girl peering out into the darkness. "Here now," she said, "What are you looking at?"
Jaquelin looked out once more, then turned, her eyes wide, a look of fear on her face. "I thought I saw a man out there in the shadows." she said.
Mary Jane got up and went to look out the window. She squinted into the darkness, trying to get her eyes to focus. After a minute, she dropped the curtain and turned around.
"I can't see a bloody thing out there" she said.
"I still think I saw something."
"Well I didn't."
"Couldn't you look again?"
Muttering under her breath, Mary Jane turned back to the window. She looked up and down the dark alley. "There's nothing out there." she said.
Suddenly, from outside came a loud crash of glass breaking, causing Mary Jane to jump and bringing a sharp scream from Jaquelin.
"Oh Lord, what if it's him?" the girl cried.
Mary Jane shook her head. "Be quiet" she said, "That sounded like a bottle breaking to me. Probably one of the neighbors throwing out an empty."
Jaquelin didn't seem to be convinced. "Please," she begged, "Couldn't we block the door somehow, so he can't get in?"
"Oh all right, come on and help."
There was a heavy chest of drawers standing against one wall of the room. Together, after much pushing and straining, they succeeded in moving it in front of the door.
Mary Jane fell back on the bed, exhausted, and watched the girl move slowly around the room. Blocking the door seemed to have relieved her fear. She even had a slight smile on her face. She circled the room once then stopped in front of the fireplace and looked up at the cheap print hanging above the mantle.
"The Fisherman's Widow," she said, obviously proud of her ability to read, "That's a pretty picture, but it's sort of sad."
Mary Jane looked up in confusion. What was wrong with this girl, anyway? One second she was scared to death, the next she was talking about art.
"I guess so," she said, lying back and closing her eyes. The gin she had been drinking earlier, combined with the exertion of moving the chest, was taking its toll on her and she was beginning to drift off.
Faintly, from the room above them, came a series of soft thumps and the sound of faint laughter. The girl looked up toward the ceiling, her slight smile gone, and her eyes flashed with anger.
"I hate when she does that." she said.
Mary Jane turned over, opening her eyes sleepily. "What?" she asked.
The girl pointed toward the ceiling. "I hate it when my mum sells herself to men like that. It's wrong."
Mary Jane looked at the girl in wonder. In that particular section of East London at that time, prostitution was considered more or less a way of life. After all, people had to eat. Mary Jane, herself, had been known to sell her favors from time to time.
"And she acts like she don't even care." the girl went on," Lately she's even been talking about having me join her in the business."
Mary Jane yawned. "Well, we all have to make a living."
"Well I won't do it."
Mary Jane shrugged and turned over, her back to the girl. There was a long period of silence and she began to drift off again.
"You're just like her," she said, "Just like all of them. You don't care. None of you care."
She was answered by another yawn from the bed. She stood looking down at Mary Jane's sleeping form with its back toward her. A slow smile spread across her face and a strange gleam came into her eyes.
"I'll teach you to care," she said softly.
Mary Jane Kelly was awakened by someone climbing roughly onto the bed with her. Her eyes snapped open as a small, soft hand was clamped firmly over her mouth. Turning her head, she saw Jaquelin kneeling over her, and her eyes caught the glint of candlelight on the blade.
She felt the first cold tingling at her throat, which quickly blossomed into full-blown agony. In the last seconds before the final darkness overwhelmed her, she dimly heard the laughter of a child.