A Rip in Time

The age-old question: what if I could go back in time? Fix the past? Rewrite my wrongs?

And in the Gutter, the answer is always the same: How many different ways could I fuck it up?

A Rip in Time by Anthony Ferguson

You hold the music box up for closer inspection. It is the one from the catalogue, you are certain. Found in a slum on the London docklands in 1986. Sold by Sothebys in 1989 for one hundred thousand pounds. You place it next to the brooch and several other items of interest. Another one crossed off your list.

These worthless baubles will one day sell to collectors for a fortune. What’s more, they will be sold on that far distant day by yourself. You smile, aware of your anomalous status in late nineteenth century London. Just another stopover on your voyage of discovery.

Gaslight flickers on the filth-encrusted window. A crack in the glass emits the smell of rotting fish and the river. This tiny doss hole reeks of stale sweat and something else. A cloth cap and a dark stained apron hang over a rickety chair.

You lift the device from your pocket and place it on the decrepit table. It is the key to your success, this shiny little mechanism, for it allows you to travel through time.

You handle the vessel with the same bloodstained hands you used to obtain it. How was the old inventor to know he would stumble across such a treasure after years of fruitless experiment? It was his misfortune to share his secret with you. All that matters now is that it belongs to you.

You were wise to apply its capacity to your trade as a dealer in artifacts, and what riches your secret travels bestow upon you. You read enough about Victorian London to know the East Enders had a habit of leaving doors unlocked for easy access. The poor have nothing of worth protecting.

As the waning moon descends past the grimy window, you check your watch against the faithful chiming of Big Ben. It is almost dawn. Time to move on.

You pick up the music box, turn its key and hold it to your ear. Distracted, trying to place the wistful tune in your memory. A quiet footfall causes you to turn around and you are face to face with him.

The two of you stand motionless, eyeing one another as the lilting melody winds down. Caught off guard, you take in the image of this vagabond in all his shabby gentility.

His dark eyes scan your strange clothing. He suspects your unnatural presence in this place, just as you begin to perceive his. It is then that you see it, the bloody knife protruding from the sleeve, held in a purposeful grip. With sudden realization you are aware that you cannot know the face, but you do comprehend the name.

Until this point he had been nothing more than a bloody phantom, a demon stalking the pages of history, a symbol of the misery of life for the poor of East London on nights like this in November of 1888. No time for that now. You cast a furtive glance at the table behind you where the device awaits. One click and you are no longer here.

His eyes follow your every move and you are unnerved by his uncanny stealth. In desperation you chance your arm, lunging for the timepiece, but he is too quick. In an instant a gnarled hand covers your mouth. The cruel blade shimmers in the gaslight and your throat is slit from ear to ear.

You fall before him, undone by the whims of time. The age of gaslight will draw to a close in the next few years. Herschel’s science of fingerprinting will remain unappreciated by a capricious government until the turn of the twentieth century. These things once worked in your favor. Now they work in his.

You lie looking up at him as the light flickers out. Linger long enough to see him pick the object up and examine it, turning it over. He has no idea what it does, but he will learn.

Anthony Ferguson is a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) and has published short stories, flash fiction pieces and non-fiction articles in various magazines, e-zines and anthologies in Australia, Britain the United States. He wrote the non-fiction book, The Sex Doll: A History (McFarland 2010) and edited the short story collection Devil Dolls and Duplicates in Australian Horror (Equilibrium 2011). He blogs at http://apferguson.com/