Image of the Ripper
Steven L. Shrewsbury
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, Beyond Good And Evil, 1886
"Well! I haven't seen much of you around here lately, Dr. Stephenson! I'd thought my monies would never be sent your way again."
The tall, black-haired man was slumped in a wooden chair at the gentleman's club. He stared up at his aged friend. Then Dr. Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson, usually robust and powerful, reached out feebly to offer Colin a match for his pipe, groaning for his trouble.
"No, I have been preoccupied with a terrible battle," Stephenson said. "However, I am not dead yet, so you can still be my benefactor for services rendered."
Colin relit his pipe, shook off the flame of the match, and chuckled as he sat.
"At war with the mages again, young man? Tsk! Tsk! Sending armies of spirits after another magician for disagreeing with you is hardly a way to engage in a healthy debate! You need to get outside more."
The doctor sat up straight, suddenly looking more vital, and brushed back his shaggy, very uncommonly long hair.
"This did not concern those gnats." His voice was low, gravely, and full of bile. His black eyes gleamed as he looked at Colin, then the other members of the club, who were blissfully smoking, drinking, and chatting in the cozy quarters of the enormous house. "I do so hate to indulge in games where the rules are not all mine."
Colin gave him a dour look.
"What is the trouble with you, doctor? From your appearance, I'd guess that you had been wrestling with someone or something! Hmm! Is that the real truth here? Spent too much time playing rumpety-bumpety with the cocaine bottle?"
The doctor closed his eyes as a waiter approached.
"Tea or stronger, sir?"
Stephenson straightened his jacket and replied, "Tea for starters. No, Colin. The bottle was my only salvation in this harrowing time. Without its focus, I fear that my mind would've become unbound forever."
A halo of smoke curled about Colin's slicked-back gray hair as he pointed at a folded newspaper.
"Hard time to live, eh? Golly fantastic, old boy. You and the rest of those on England's pleasant pastures. Sorry, but your benefactor must suggest that others are having a more difficult time in their real lives than you. Want proof? It says here that this latest Ripper murder is the most ghastly."
Dr. Stephenson glanced at the paper and nodded.
"Yes. I fear that the Ripper has moved on."
Colin coughed, took a drink from his glass of sloshing amber liquid, and offered a toast to his weary friend.
"You don't say? Cheers then! Hah! Such sentiments from a bloke who never leaves his domicile. I saw that photo the other day of the latest girl bloody dreadful. That jackanape killer has the men of Yard going in circles. It would be more amusing if it were not so tragic. The gentlemen here have a pool going as to the number of victims. If you would like, we can cast your lot in."
The doctor's black eyes ran over the paper. "He is done with whores, Colin. How does one top that performance?"
Colin eyed the younger man ever closer. He wasn't alone, for most of the men in the club were giving Dr. Stephenson a polite once-over while pretending to concentrate on their conversations or reading.
"My boy, have you been ill? You look a dreadful fright! You are paler than the Prince of Wales. And where is your tie? You disrespect The Queen's society enough with all of that occult talk, but good God, man, you always had some taste."
Stephenson's long fingers felt his throat as he replied. "I am fresh out of ties, Colin."
He closed his eyes and he was suddenly in that place, months ago, lying on his back in the upper room of the home in the East End of London where he stayed. "I was traveling," he told Colin, not lying whatsoever.
Stephenson didn't think that he could share what happened without being accused of being a madman or yet more of a drug fiend. How could he inform Colin of his astral travels? Stephenson was a quiet mage, keeping to himself and educating few students to the craft. Oh, a few petty occultists drew his ire for disagreeing with them on various potions or curses, but generally he wore his cloak of mystery and silence well. He had spoken up to say that the Ripper murders might be part of some ritual killing, if there came as many as five murderers, one for each of the five points of a pentagram for channeling. This offhand comment had put him in Inspector Abberline's sights as of late, but his alibi for two of the murders happened to be airtight.
"To where did you take a trip?" Colin wondered aloud, drinking and reading the paper.
"Ever face the terror that your ideology may be improperly formulated?"
Colin's face nearly burst asunder has he laughed.
"Bloody hell! You haven't converted, have you? Taken up the monk's cowl?"
Stephenson picked up his tea, waited for the paintings on the tan walls about them to stop blurring, and then gazed intently at Colin.
"Let us just say that I discovered something on my long travels."
"Flitting about in the mind again? Trying to get into Heaven or Hell? Huh! There is insufficient evidence that something comes after this life, no matter what you say." Colin snorted. "I swear, you are getting loopy. If it weren't for the sex-magick practices you give me to build my reputation, I'd cut you off at the purse strings! Hah!"
"What? And lose that valued reputation as an ageless stud amongst these stuffy old buggers? Don't insult me, Colin. Listen, I was off being a fool ... in pursuit of greater power and in hopes of changing history, I did a bad thing, a scarlet sin."
"You admit that you committed a sin? This is a notable day for my calendar."
Stephenson was positive that he hadn't hallucinated the elaborate trip beyond the wings of his guardian angel and to the outer realms of light. The Earth had hung suspended in space when he'd traveled through the dimensions of ethereal light. He'd come closer to it and seen a spiderweb network of light knitting the bottom of the Earth in place. He'd flown to the base of this vision and seen a single thick beam coming out of the bottom of the planet, sinking into the web of glowing threads. This beam had borne ridges and waves, almost like bark. Under this beam had been long tendrils more like veins than roots, dropping into oblivion. When the doctor had looked down, terror had gripped him, and suddenly he'd beheld nude, rotten corpses trying to crawl up to this beam. They had been in a panic, working for this goal, but they'd kept hitting an invisible ceiling just below the beam.
On the beam had been the figure of a human. The doctor's astral heart had raced at the image before him a long-haired man, bearded, nailed to a tree.
Recalling the feeling of exhilaration he had experienced, Stephenson smiled. He'd thought it was the God he hated there before him in that astral vision, imprisoned on the tree. Then he'd felt that if this suffering God were a prisoner there, perhaps he could be Stephenson's prisoner elsewhere! So Stephenson had yanked the man free from the tree.
Stephenson remembered how he'd pulled the image of the weakened man into his upper room, all the while saying his binding spells. The power in his astral hands felt prickly and hot. Once back in reality, the doctor had been stunned to see the image of the man look at him, abruptly slap him physically across the face, and transform.
There was no way he could tell Colin that the old man-spirit had sprouted wings, become a large black raven, and flown out of the window. The young mage remembered that he had resolved to cut back his drug and alcohol intake at that time, thinking it had all been a bad trip into the realms of glory.
Now Stephenson trembled as he recollected watching the raven fly out and zero in on a poor immigrant on the street. The bird had plunged into the man's chest headfirst and vanished. The thin immigrant had screamed, then stood erect. He'd looked up at the doctor, winked, and suddenly run. No one else on the street had seemed to think anything odd had happened.
"I fear that my spells have cost Mabel Collins a servant, a scurvy-filled Polack named Kosmanski. He ran off after he was, shall I say, down to no good."
Colin tapped his forehead.
"Bad spells from you? ...Kosmanski? Say that name is familiar. Good heavens, yes! When did this happen?"
"In the summer of 1888."
"When the Yard investigated some of those Ripper murders, a name like that was among the names of those questioned! Polish Jew, I think he was! I hear that such inquiries were hushed up to avoid attacks on the Jewish community. But those long, foreign names escape me. Perhaps I am wrong."
Stephenson's mouth grew dry even though he just downed some tea. "He was mad. It wouldn't shock me if they hushed it all up at first."
He closed his eyes as he recalled the night the thin man came home to Mabel's house, where he stayed ... but it hadn't been the real Kosmanski. He had thought it was at first, for it appeared to be Kosmanski in the flesh. The filthy man had grabbed the doctor by the neck, but not to choke him. The mad Polish man had wiped his hands on the doctor's tie and gave out an orgasmic cry, transmitting to the doctor's mind what had happened in the days before ... on August 31, 1888, in Buck's Row.
Mary Ann 'Polly" Nichols, throat slit, body gutted, spirit gone...
The image before the doctor had then transformed into a raven again.
The ensuing magical wrestling match had gone on for days, until Stephenson had thought he had the bird contained. Panic set in, but he had to think, to research and to plan, for he knew he must to understand just what he had freed.
Then the raven had gotten loose again, on September 7, this time attacking the doctor that Stephenson had called in from London to look at Mabel's ailing maid.
One Dr. Konovalov, alias Mr. Pedachenko, looked at the young girl, who had an illness Dr. Stephenson didn't know how to treat. Most of the professional community would have nothing to do with the mysterious young mage due to his odd practices, so he was often forced to ask the advice of foreigners or doctors of dubious background. Konovalov, too, was penetrated by the raven and left the home.
On September 8, Anne Chapman had her throat slit, her kidney removed, and her spirit stunted in an attack in London. Konovalov returned to the weakening mage to wipe his hands on his tie, to bloody Stephenson with his latest victim.
Again, the transformation occurred, and the psychic wrestling match commenced. This time Stephenson had felt the raven spirit to be stronger and far more powerful than before. He had wondered why the spirit hadn't simply taken the maid, but sensed through the freed spirit that the maid was too young and pure. He hadn't understood what that meant ... then.
"That man was never arrested for any of the crimes," Colin said, remembering. "Here, here! Another drink!"
"There are no shortages of madmen in London. Queen Victoria should do something about that. She should start with her own family..." Stephenson began.
"Now, now! No need to preach like an odd anarchist. You never told me what left you so tired and pale. Were you out of country?"
The doctor smirked, eyeing the drapes that shaded just enough light from the club to allow for the proper, crisp mood.
"One could say that. I had to consult with some spirits."
Colin sighed, not really wanting to hear the particulars of Stephenson's private life.
The mage knew that Colin was essentially a good man, stern, a fine benefactor, concerned only about the multiple orgasms his sex magick brought him. There was no way Stephenson could explain, could do justice to, the battle that had happened in his room. How could he explain to Colin how he had fought to make circles of power to house the spirit posing as a raven?
"I recently took up a study of Norse mythology," Stephenson said, and sipped his tea. "Became a positive Odin in the subject."
Again, Colin regarded him with suspicion. "Never the dull life for you, eh, Stephenson? I have enough troubles with real people on two legs, much less spirits flitting around on wings!"
For weeks Stephenson had labored to keep the creature at bay in circle of power. Like a man possessed, the doctor had researched any reference to what he had seen and fought. Alas, he had eventually found what he'd been looking for.
"You see, Colin, in my own arrogance I thought I could hold hostage a piece of the Christian faith. I thought I could bring down the cult of the carpenter. By doing this, my doltish ego thought that I could negate the Church's power on the world. I miscalculated from my very first assumption concerning what, er, whom, I was fighting."
Colin didn't look at him but gazed down at the newspaper.
"You failed? Boy, boy, boy, armies and Caesars couldn't conquer the carpenter from Palestine. What do you think you could accomplish? Please do not assail me with such silliness!"
"You will never know what trouble the case of mistaken identity caused."
"I would imagine, in your line of work, that casting the wrong spell on the wrong spirit could be dangerous." Colin huffed, biting his pipe and picking up a thick bottle of amber liquid to refill his glass. "Stronger drink?"
Stephenson pushed his teacup at Colin.
"I don't care. Pour me one."
"You have been indoors a great deal lately?"
Stephenson rubbed his forehead.
"For almost a month. I had a deep conversation with an old ... an old acquaintance. He would no longer be caged by my spells, for he had grown powerful."
"What are you rambling about? Who was he?"
When Stephenson had solved the mystery of just whom he had imprisoned in the circle in his upper room, the raven had gone. Although he had no idea where it went, or into whom, he had at last deduced a good idea of why.
Each time the raven escaped, the creature returned more powerful. Each time the image of the raven was more vivid and well-defined. And every time the possessed individual returned, bringing blood for the doctor's tie like some sort of fetish or ritual of a barbaric hunter.
Strangers had again shown up at Stephenson's rooms in the beginning of October, a few days after a Ripper double murder. The person who had bloodied Dr. Stephenson that time was a tall American, gaunt, with eyes full of angst ... the image of a man who had seen his share of an American Civil War as a surgeon faded and was replaced by a portly woman in midwife's clothing. In her bonnet, apron, and heavy clothes she grinned, blooded the tie again, and then licked the congealed crimson from her fingers. The names Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes floated through the doctor's mind, replete with their images, slashed and slain. Then, the raven had transformed, but Stephenson could no longer fight him.
Although sitting in a cozy club with polished wooden fixtures, Stephenson was lost in thought in that horrid reality of days before. All he could think about was the raven taking on human form again. This time, the form had been that of a tall, bearded man with snow-white hair. He had been surging with power, no longer thin and weak, as he had been on the beam at the bottom of the astral abyss. This individual no longer wanted to wrestle.
Gritting his teeth, Stephenson hissed, "Do you want to really comprehend what I've been at, Colin? Can you really do anything more than idly sit and read about the Ripper? I've had my hands on him!"
Slamming his pipe to the tray, Colin growled, "Calm down! People are staring!"
"Let them!" the doctor snarled loudly. "Let me tell you about him! He was drunk on their sinful, besotted souls the old arrogant monster that he was! He wasn't about to aid me or any other mage in gaining knowledge or conquest he is only concerned about himself! The arrogant bastard I freed had nailed himself there below the Earth in the first place!"
Colin flushed as he looked about them. Several of the other patrons glared at them, refilling their pipes, shuffling their shoes, and exhaling to voice their displeasure at being disturbed.
"Quiet now, my boy, or they will think us both mad! What on Earth are you talking about?"
Stephenson breathed several times and said quietly, "Something terrible is free on this Earth. I allowed something to come back into this realm after it was no longer wanted. He knew he was defeated years ago, so he slept, went away to suffer. Oh, but he didn't suffer for his children, like the little Jesus-God did. Oh no; this one endured the agony of Yggdrasil, the tree that props up the Earth, the power of astral life, to gain greater powe knowledge for himself! A selfish swine, he is, calling himself the All-Father in his grand delusions! That is what he used to be and that is what he wants anew. He went to the eternal tree of life to regroup!"
Colin leaned closer. "Roslyn, I have humored you a many a time...."
"This is not one of those times, Colin!" Stephenson growled emphatically. "Let the club suspend my privileges! What do I care? This spirit was weak when he was loosed, requiring the souls of impure, unbelieving wretches to restore his body. Why the filth of society? He said that infant blood was too pure. Only those who knew how to sin and how to shake it off were resilient enough for his new nexus of power. That wizened monster-lord hopped from body to body, a different disguise each time, and had the police going mad! Abberline will never arrest the correct killer, because there is no one piece of flesh responsible. This pagan god restored his soul and then turned on me, made me perform the last terrible act on the only whore who had an inkling of spiritual thought!"
"What? But why? Why would anyone make someone do a terrible thing? What did he do?"
Stephenson flopped back in the chair and exhaled. He closed his eyes, recalling the ravages performed on poor Mary Kelly, pretty and pregnant. Worse than the others, for the reaver-god wanted to prove to his benefactor what he was capable of inspiring men to do.
"He did it. He made me kill that last one in such a horrid way because he could do it. He made these hands his instruments to show me what power was. I couldn't resist."
Colin covered his face with both hands and vigorously rubbed his aging skin.
"That is all nonsense! Hold your tongue or they will call Abberline on you and revoke my membership!"
"It is over now, Colin. There will be no more ritualistic hunts for souls. It is all completed and all I have for my folly is a trinket box filled with bloody ties. I loosed an aged barbarian warrior spirit back onto this world, a planet now more forgiving in the light of the new God Jesus. This god is jealous. He wants his children back. He wants vengeance. He wants blood."
"Who are you talking about? This is madness!"
"He only wanted the whores, promising he'd come back some day and add me to his soul. Who is he? Hah! You would never believe me!"
"He is one who gives warriors thoughts of conquest, superiority, and unity. He is hungry for more souls than I can supply. What else would a god who thrives on war want, eh? War! What mischief will he seek? What kind of people will listen to him? What wars could possibly supply enough blood or bile for his darkened heart?"
Colin ground his teeth and slapped his pipe on the tray.
"Fools, madmen, and tramps have such foolish gods! Even we who do not pray to Jesus ignore the old pagan idols. They're nothing but rocks! No mass of dolts will ever get in lock-step with such a deity."
Stephenson nodded once more and tried to fight down his feelings of nausea.
He couldn't get the feeling out of his mind that he was a lucky man, whatever the case. He looked a god in the face and lived...
...Even if that warrior, All-Father Lord had only had one eye...
Dr. Roslyn D'Onston Stephenson vanished off the face of the earth in 1904. Reasons for this secretive, cunning mage's disappearance are unclear. Several documentaries on the Ripper murders mention a bizarre fact: Aleister Crowley claimed to have a box of bloody ties that the murderer had wiped his hands on after each crime, supposedly as a form of sexual fetish. No one knows where this box is; presumably it is with many of Crowley's other possessions owned by guitarist Jimmy Page. One source tells me that this man may have been an astrologer named Robert Donston, an alias of Dr. Stephenson. The above tale, of course, is a pure fiction based on the murder facts, a few suspects and some other philosophies.
But WW1 General Erich Ludendorff and Dietrich Eckart, among others who were the spiritual godfathers of Nazism, dreamed of a return to the old ways. While the one man oversaw the deaths of millions and the other helped to inspire the demise of even more a generation later, one fact is true of both: They were Odinists.
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM