I am working on an anthology of “Steampunked Nursery Rhymes.” What started as my first short story published in HCS’s Steam & Steel: Thirteen Riveting Tales became a project for me. “To Fetch A Pale of Water” was my version of the origin story for that nursery rhyme. “Along Came A Spider” came after for HCS’s Dark anthology. “Petite Beau Peep” will soon be published for HCS’s Dark and Stormy anthology.
In the mean time, I wrote another short story “Falling Down” (London Bridges). I had published the first part of that story here a while back. Things have taken their own course, now. I must finish what I have started! I am aiming for ten stories, but will be happy if I am inspired to write more before this project feels finished.
I am thrilled for this next story, “Jack, be quick!” because it is inspired by one of my all-time favorite collection of stories. I will not tell you 🙂 You will have to read it to find out 😉 Here, for your enjoyment, is the first (very raw) few paragraphs of my next short story.
Death reaches all beings, no matter how wealthy or pure in heart. No one knew this more than the urchins who scurried about the London streets. Death crouched with them in the cold nights. Death did not take into consideration their short time on earth.
Jack understood this. He waited, silent as the shadow that enveloped him, for the right moment. His target shuffled down the street in the tell-tale way of the elderly who had lost their agility. Jack knew he would never reach that state. He would remain as nimble as a spider until hunger finally took him. He accepted he would never have stories of wisdom and experience to impart on the young, as this man no doubt took pleasure in doing.
Time did not pour its abundance on the dregs of London society. Jack reminded himself of this truth as he eyed the figure. It wasn’t personal. This man had been able to enjoy a long life. Jack had been dealt a far worse hand. He needed money. He needed to eat. He needed to survive just one more day. To defy the odds of one more hour. To show Time and Death he had found a way to cheat.
A small figure rushed out of the darkness and ran square into the man. Jack watched, patiently. The man grabbed the boy and began a tirade of insults and accusations. “No street filth is going to stick their grubby little hands in my pockets!” He raged. “You should be beat for such action!”
The little boy tried his best to wrench away. “I were only passin’ by, sir. I weren’t gonna take yer purse, sir.”
Now or never. Jack scuttled out of the shadows and crept to the struggling pair. The boy grew frantic in his attempts to escape, drawing more focus from the man. Jack’s nimble fingers found the purse easily. He replaced the purse with a sack of small rocks. In a blink, he was back in his hiding place.
The man eventually let go of the boy. As the child ran off, the man patted his pocket. Satisfied, the man continued down the road.
Jack turned to make his way towards his partner to share the loot and smacked head-on into a figure that had not been there seconds before. The figure did not move under the momentum of Jack’s body, so Jack found himself sitting down hard on the ground with a whooof.
“Splendid!” said the dark figure. “Well done, really. I must say. I wasn’t sure of your role in all this, but it turned out to be quite the clever one.”
Jack stared up and up, trying to find the face of this tall, dark aberration.
“Come, let’s not worry your friend,” the man said, leaning down to help Jack to his feet.
Jack hesitated, then reached into the shadows for something before getting back up again without using the man’s extended hand. He wasn’t sure he could trust this man, so he wanted his most prized possession close. Much to Jack’s growing surprise and curiosity, the man lead him straight to the rendezvous with Dylan. Dylan, for his part, almost took off when he saw the tall figure looming towards him.
“No, no,” the man said kindly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Dylan shifted his weight, then tried to catch Jack’s eye in the weak street light. Jack’s head moved in slight nod, and Dylan relaxed.
“I mean to hire you boys, and a few others with your skills. I need help,” the tall man continued.
Much to the horror of both boys, the elderly man they had just robbed stepped out the shadows behind them. The boys took on fighting stances, ready to claw their way out of the trap.
This man, shorter than the other and with a gentler voice, put his hands up. “Come, come now. It’s alright.”
The boys’ instincts kicked in, and they moved back-to-back with each other.
“We mean you no harm,” the tall man repeated. “That was a test. And you past. We need boys like you. I am willing to offer payment.”
Dylan relaxed completely and almost smiled. Jack stayed crouched and narrowed his eyes.
The tall man reached into his cloak and pulled out two loaves of bread. He slowly extended his arms, palms up with his hands open, to the boys. Dylan snatched his up right away and tore into it. Jack stood a little straighter and took the loaf, but studied it and the man for a while. He watched Dylan devour the fresh bread, knowing he could not have stopped him if he tried.
The tall man watched something move in Jack’s pocket. He was amazed that such a threadbare garment still had the ability to hold anything.
A tiny, fuzzy head popped out of Jack’s breast pocket. It’s tiny head wobbled as its pink nose flared towards the direction of the loaf. The creature erased any doubt of what it was with a soft, pitiful meow.
Jack smelled and studied the bread once more. He glared at the two men who were watching him with curiosity, Then, he tore off a small bite of his loaf for the crying kitten — all but ignoring his own growling stomach.