In 3000 words or less, write about a woman or man that has been falsely imprisoned for half of their life. What do they do when they are finally proven innocent and set free?
~ A Short Story by David Revilla
“Free?” The word tasted bitter in my mouth, like a candy that had lost its sweet taste.
The judge looked at me, aged brow furrowed into many folds. “Did I stutter?” His condescending voice holds within it a tinge of venom. One would think he despised the idea of letting me go. I was, after all, Jack. “Yes, you are free to go.”
The sound of the gavel was deafening, like the judge had a personal vendetta against the podium on which he rapped. I would have flinched were I not so flabbergasted. Truth be told, I expected to spend the rest of my life in prison. Men like me did not go free. Then again, there are no men like me. I am no mere man.
I am Jack.
I felt the strong hands of my guard grab me from behind. He firmly led me off from where I had been sentenced for the crime of murder. It seemed so long ago then, like I had just woken up from living someone else’s memory, my eyes fluttering open as I tried to discern my whereabouts.
The guard led me down the vacant aisles, out of the courtroom, and into the hall where two more of his fellows, gruff, hard-looking men with dark eyes, muttered harsh words at my passing. I didn’t pay them any mind. I was free. One would think that would be a cause for joy and elation.
But not for me.
Do not misunderstand, I don’t to go back to prison. Prison was where the soul went to die. My soul was still intact, thank God, but…no. God and I have not spoken in a long time. I don’t know who I should thank for my newfound freedom or even if I should be thankful at all. I have spent the last 118 years in prison, my jailers doing everything humanely possible to bury me as deep as the ancient soil of England would allow; deeper than the cairns of old Celtic kings, to the very rooftop of hell if it were at all possible.
118 years. It might seem ludicrous to you. But as I said, I am no mere man. I am Jack.
To humanely incarcerate an inhuman man is no easy feat. Scotland Yard tried to bury my past, my legacy, along with me. As I was led out of the house of justice, my footfalls as stoic as the pale features of my face, I thought back to that night more than a century ago when my enemies, with connections in high places, tried to have me put away forever.
Now that may seem like a long time to you, but as I am no man, I could have spent ten times ten that amount in jail and not aged a day. I am what you would call an immortal, blessed, and cursed, with eternal youth. Atropos herself cannot have me, though I have sent many an undead into her chilly embrace.
Undead? Ludicrous, you say? Hardly.
The guard released me and just like that I was free to go. I stepped through the double doors of the palace of justice and squinted in the afternoon sun. My eyes watered, a sting I had not felt in a very long time. I welcomed it. I embraced it. Though my sudden release had me considering all manner of paranoia-induced plotting at the hands of my enemies, I had come to realize one very apparent truth at that moment: they’d let me out into the sun.
They didn’t win, I thought as my eyes began to clear. The undead hated the sun. In my incarceration, my one solace was in the belief that my actions had somehow stemmed the tide of evil from overtaking my beloved London, my city. In countless sleepless hours in the dark, the worst part was the fear of not knowing what had happened. Now that I am free and seeing my home for the first time in decades, I can breathe a sigh of relief the likes of which I didn’t know my lungs possessed.
It was all still here. We had won.
“Jack.” A voice from the past greeted me upon my return to the world of the living. I almost didn’t recognize him. While we immortal hunters may not age, we must adapt with the times. After more than a hundred years of being left out of the loop, I knew that clothing attire had undergone many changes while I was locked away. But this…
“Abe?” I asked aghast. The portly fellow whom I had shared many a close call with looked no worse for the wear, unless one counted the cleanly-shaven head, thin mustache, and what I assumed to be some sort of formal suit, as unfortunate. Which I did. “Is that you?”
Abe greeted me with a hug. Never one for formality, at least that much about old Abraham Van Helsing remained the same. I gasped as he let me go. “You look…different.”
“And you,” he began with a laugh, “look exactly the same.” He pinched his rubbery nose. “Could do with a shower.”
Abe put his arm around me and led me towards a strange four-wheeled vehicle that was oddly close to the ground. I recall seeing something of the like, before I was imprisoned of course, and my mind raced through a mental catalog of things long past. “Is that a...automobile?”
“We’ve a great deal of catching up to do,” Abe said, and wasted no time in escorting me to the vehicle. As we approached, I caught site of a man dressed in black who opened the door for us. His face was completely covered, his black cap pulled tight over his pale face.
“Abe?” I began as the man opened the back door to allow us inside. “Abe!” I said with more urgency, my heart suddenly racing.
“It’s alright, Jack.” He waved the chauffer off as he entered the car behind me. The chauffer shut the door behind us and moved about, presumably, to start the vehicle. The cabin we had entered was spacious, enough for half a dozen people to sit around in a semi-circle comfortably and with ample legroom. Ahead I spotted the undead chauffer enter the driver side and start the automobile, which rumbled like a waking lion.
Glancing at my old friend, I gasped my next statement. “That chauffer is undead.”
“Quite right,” Abe agreed. Reaching into his pocket, the man pulled out—not a pipe, as he was well known for smoking, but a large cigarette. An earthy scent filled the cabin.
“Smoke sir?” The chauffer asked in an inquisitor voice.
“Yes, Ezekiel. Excuse me.” Reaching over, Abe pushed a button beside his chair and a thin black screen arose between us and the chauffer, cutting him off from sight. “There we are.” Abe leaned back as he looked at me. “Union types get all up in arms if we don’t respect our employees.”
“Employees?” I bucked in my seat even though the vehicle felt as if it were moving on smooth ice. “You mean they serve us now?” Had our victory been that complete? No, I berated myself. My order had dedicated itself to eradicating the undead centuries ago. Ours was a holy struggle that began after the fall of Christ. We would never parlay with the dead.
Abe’s laugh was irritating, the jowls of his cheeks bobbing. “Things have changed since you’ve been away, Jack. We don’t fight them anymore.”
“We don’t?” I would have stood up were the ceiling not so low.
“No.” Abe took another puff of his cigarette. “We work with them. Sometimes for them.” He chuckled at my obvious surprise. “Don’t look at me that way, Jackie. You had to have known things wouldn’t be the same once you got out.”
“I didn’t expect to ever get out, Abe. Speaking of which,” I settled down somewhat, though my eyes kept glancing to the black screen. “How did you manage to get me out of there? I thought Scotland Yard had enough of a false case against me to put me away until Judgment Day.”
“They did. They did quite a good of framing you.”
“Framing me? How can I be framed for killing what’s already dead?” I still couldn’t believe it. “I thought you had connections in Parliament. I rotted in that prison for more than a century. What have you been up to all this time?”
“A lot.” Abe glanced out the window. “Take a look out there, Jack. London’s not what is used to be. Damned liberals control everything now and everyone has rights as far as the new administration is concerned.”
“Everyone.” He glanced at me. “The undead walk freely among us.”
“Bollocks!” I cried. “They would devour us all!”
“Not so. A few years after your incarceration, our side met with theirs, made a hodgepodge of promises to one another and just like that, instant treaty. We now coexist together in racial harmony.”
I could not believe it. “And you, Abe?”
“I’m no Brutus, Jackie. I was just as shocked as you when I heard our moms and pops upstairs decided to play nice with the dead-heads. Just a moment,” he pushed the button that lowered the screen. “Oh Ezekiel, take the scenic route. Jack and I have a lot to talk about.”
“Yes sir,” the undead said back before the screen went up again.
“I wasn’t the only one, mind you. Rayne and Blake. Mike and Dee. We were all up in arms at first. But we had to commit else face expulsion from the order. Sen did that.” His face turned dour. “Haven’t heard from her since she stormed out back in Brussels. Word is she’s gone rogue somewhere in Bangkok. There’s a warrant for her arrest as…”
“We hunt our own now?”
“We don’t hunt anyone anymore,” Abe spoke up. “Take a look at me, Jackie. Do I look like I stroll through sewers and aqueducts late at night anymore?”
“I daresay you’ve gone turncoat, Abraham.”
“Now Jack. I know you’re frustrated, mad even, but you don’t know what it’s been like out here.”
“Out here?” I almost exploded. “Out here! Do you have any idea what I’ve been through? What I’ve been forced to endure?” I could feel my hands clenching as if they’d meant to pummel ol’ Abe into a fat pulp. Honestly, the idea did sound appealing at the moment. “That year, 1888, I was at the forefront of an effort to stop an invasion! I was to hunt down those undead agents who were posing as prostitutes. They were preying on high-ranking government officials who frequented the Whitechapel district.”
I leered at Abe. “We knew the undead would use the media to paint me as a murderer. A murderer, Abe. I saved King and Country and God only knows how many people from an influx of undead who would have placed their own people in Parliament and Buckingham Palace itself after the politicians were dealt with, turning England into the Eighth Circle of Hell.”
I almost collapsed against my seat. Pinching my nose, for I could not comprehend what was happening around me, I spoke through troubled breath. “I knew there would be repercussions for my actions, that the undead would do everything in their power to stop me. That was where you were supposed to come in, Abraham.” I eyed him. “When they captured me, I expected to be tortured for information, but instead I was simply ‘put away’ in some dark hole while you talked to them, is that what you’re telling me?”
“You would have broken eventually, Jack. We had to come clean else the order might not have survived the backlash.”
“So you just all decided to leave me there to rot,” I demanded rather than asked.
“Hardly. We spent the better part of the last century doing everything we could to get you out. A few of the lads and lassies wanted to mount a rescue mission, but by then we were in too deep with the negotiations and any hostility on the part of either side would have plunged England into civil war.”
“It is our duty to fight the undead.”
“It was our duty, Jack. We don’t work like that anymore.”
My saliva tasted like poison, so betrayed I felt. Out the window I could see the streets of London filled with people. A few of them were wearing bizarre outfits. At first I considered it was just the changing of the times, but then I began to wonder if those individuals were in fact hiding something from the general populace, something they didn’t want known. How many of those pedestrians, I wondered, were the enemy in disguise?
“It wasn’t easy, Jack. Believe me.”
“I stopped believing in things while I was picking cockroaches off my bare feet.” I turned to him, hurt in my eyes. “All this time, the only thing holding me together was the thought of you, Blake, and the others fighting the good fight. I never lost hope that we would win.”
“And we did win. In a sense.”
“Peace with the undead is no victory.”
“It’s no defeat, either,” he countered. “They didn’t wipe us out, Jackie. Humans still control England and Europe, for the most part.”
I questioned him with my eyes.
“The French, Jackie. Always the French.” He chuckled.
I was in no laughing mood.
Abe sighed. “Listen, Jack,”
“What’s happened to you, Abe? What happened to us? To the good fight?”
“The only good fight, Jackie, is the one where we get our people home alive. Not everyone is like us, if you don’t recall. Most of our people are just brave, hard-working men and women who have families to look after. When they die, who looks after their children?” He took another puff of smoke. “The armistice brokered a much-needed peace, one that saw many of our people grow old and live long, happy lives.”
“And what about us?” I said.
“As I said, we weren’t pleased at first, but with time we learned to accept the reality of the situation. We changed. They changed, Jackie.”
I glared at the black screen.
“They’re not all bad, mind you.”
I turned on him. “How many friends did we lose?”
“That was then.” The car pulled to a stop. “This is now.”
I glanced out the window. “Where are we?” We’d stopped in front of an old building. Even though the years had updated certain features, I recognized the neighborhood almost immediately. “This is Dorset Street.”
“Indeed it is,” Abe said as he waited for the dead-head chauffer to come around and open the door. I stayed in for a few seconds after he left, unsure of what was going on. “Come now, Jackie. Don’t be shy. These are your old haunting grounds.”
He was right. Mary Jane Kelly was one of the undead lady-assassins I had slain back in 1888. She had been very good at enticing powerful men with her childish innocence and perk lips. I put an end to her dark exhibitions by removing her heart while in her quarters. Of course, her allies arrived on the scene and mutilated her body, which only served to sway further public opinion against me.
“What are we doing here?” I asked Abe.
“To get you some help, old boy.”
“Help?” I glanced up at the building. It was unmarked with a white portico and a flight of stairs leading up to a set of double-doors. “I don’t understand.”
“Exactly the point. You don’t understand because you refuse to accept things are no longer the same.”
“What are you…?”
He stopped me short. “This is where former hunters like you get the help they need to acclimate themselves to the current world. Think of it as an AA meeting…for immortals.”
I still didn’t understand.
Abe put his hand on my shoulder. “Listen, Jackie-boy. I know things are not the same as when you left them, but trust when I say that this place can help you. It helped me and most of the others back when we felt that there could be no peace between us.”
“Is that it, then? Free me and expect me to acclimate myself to the times?”
“We all had to do it, Jackie.”
“But not all of us had to go to prison.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry for that, Jack. I truly am. Believe me when I say I did everything possible to get you out sooner.”
“But why here? Why now?”
He stepped away. “Things slip through the cracks all the time. With all that was going on, is going on, it’s a wonder you were released as soon as now.”
I glared at him.
“We’re immortals, Jackie. What is time to us?”
“Something we can never get back,” I said to him, and he walked back to his strange, long automobile. “Trust me, this place will help you. You’ll change soon enough.” And with that, he was gone, along with his dead-head chauffer.
I looked back at the building, located in the same district as one of my most famous “murders.” Jack the Ripper, they called me then. I was hated and feared by the very people I had been trying to protect from the undead. I was captured, imprisoned, and forgotten—slipped through the cracks. I’d devoted my life to fighting monsters, and instead I was pegged as the monster, the one thing that waited underneath your bed or in your closet.
Looking at the building before me, an old construct in a new and ever-changing city, I felt just as out of place, out of time. I only wanted to find someplace cold and dark and hide there like the monster people thought I was.
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