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Beneath The Thames. (Short Story).

April 25, 2019

cropped-12301412301.jpgLondon, 1888.

“When I was younger…” So the twenty-two year old commented as they parked the buggy near the Ravenbrook Cemetery entrance, “I wanted to make love in a cemetery…”

John was unsure a response was wanted or even expected, so he said nothing. He should have been shocked by her statement but he wasn’t. Lately Miss. Felicity Stone seemed to be saying all sorts of things that should have made him uncomfortable but never really did anymore. There was a strangeness about her that also attracted him to the pretty girl from somewhere she refused to tell him.

“…Mary Shelley was suppose to have lost her virginity that way.” Calmly, “Sounds very Gothic indeed. Brilliant writer, I was reading a biography of her and she fascinated me. She died at fifty-three….” Looking at the fenced in cemetery, “There is something quite captivating about graveyards. I have always thought so.”

John looked out at the ancient looking cemetery and tried to fathom what she was thinking. He didn’t recall ever seeing this particular cemetery on his other travels about the city of London; seemed strange that he had never heard of the Ravenbrook Cemetery. But there it sat along the Thames river. It certainly was old and vines seemed everywhere crawling and entangled themselves in and around the graves. The trees seem old as well as they seemed massive and great stretches of branches and leaves seemed to blot out most of the sun. He had to chuckle at that idea that sunshine actually reached the ground in London anymore as bad as the dirty air was. And yes, the cemetery seemed unaffected by the city around it. It seemed to be ignoring where it was and simply decided to be a lush dark green trees and twisted vine covered place surrounded by an old iron fence. Everything about the scene seemed old, maybe very ancient as the history of London went John thought. He looked back at the young lady in the green and white well-fitted clothing and took notice of the profile.

She was still talking, “I find them fascinating, John. There is an ancient feel to this one.” The smile came and stayed a bit with some hidden secret, pointing at something she could only see, “There is an old legend that graveyards are the most haunted by ghosts who simply refuse to leave what they see as their garden to attend….” The eyes seemed to notice everything thought John. He saw nothing but an old and yes it had it’s gothic charm to it of a cemetery. “It is said that some souls never really die, they haunt and they stalk and they protect their last resting place….” The deep grey eyes looked at him, she smiled a bit, “You have often asked me where I am from. I am not born in your grey cloudy country of England. It rains too much, it’s too cold, and and certainly this city is not for me. It’s dirty, it’s without sun…” Something caught her attention in the graveyard. Whatever it was caught her attention for a few seconds, she smiled softly, “I was born in Greece on a small island that is too small to take notice of by even the British Empire…” She again smiled at something, “My father was an Englishman…he died when I was young but my mother, a true Greek beauty, took care of me the best she could.” She smiled at him, “She was a true redheaded beauty my mother….”

“You take after her in that regard, Felicity.”

“Yes, I have her looks. Mother was quite beautiful.” The smile was genuine, soft hint of sadness, “We had come to London ten years ago. Mother and I were on the Princess Alice coming up the city….” Her tone changed to a soft haunting tone, almost afraid to repeat the story she was about to tell.

“I remember that awful morning…..”

She continued as if she hadn’t heard him, “The Princess Alice was a paddle steamer that had collided with the collier the Bywell Castle on the river…” Pointing in the direction of the Thames, her long thin fingers seemed to be making a unspoken accusation.” Looking at him with those eyes that at times unnerved him with their intensity of knowing more than she wanted to say and something else he didn’t like the look, “Over six hundred to seven hundred people were killed that terrible day.” She returned her look to the cemetery for a few seconds, the features seemed in conflict, “Form Swan Pier…”

“Near London Bridge, yes, I know of the place…”

“The paddle steamer was heading downstream that foul smelling river toward Sheerness to Kent and back to London again. Mother and I had thought it would do us some good to get out of this city of yours. How a great empire such as yours can allow this great city to be such a foul place for humans to live…but it was her idea to take this particular trip and I agreed because even I felt unhealthy in this place and needed clean air. It was an hour after sunset….the collision was unfortunately near where raw sewage had just been dumped into that river of yours….” The grey eyes seemed to flash an anger that vanished quickly, “The Princess Alice shattered into three pieces. The nightmare and terror of that night is well remembered by me because of those who drowned in the polluted water and one was my mother. One minute she was there and then the shudder of the ship breaking in pieces, the screams of the others, the horrible panic of those around me, she was right next to me one minute and then the next she was drowning in that polluted river of London. I saw her no more. I have a strange memory of my own actions….”

Gently, “What strange memories?”

“I remember in bits and terrible pieces becoming frantic about the fate of mother, I vaguely remember trying to even go to her rescue in the water below and someone held me back. I remember another shudder of the dying ship sinking into the river, I remember the smell even to this day….” She smiled again at something she noticed in the old cemetery, returning to John, “I have an odd memory of someone calling my name, but only a name my father would have used and a hand grabbing me before another shudder of a dying ship went through the dying sinking thing on that river. It really did sound like him, I even felt the hand that grabbed me to my rescue was him…” She glanced up at the unpleasant sky, frowned at something, returned to John who was listening quite patiently she noted, “I have no memory of a face or actually seeing the owner of the hand that pulled me from plunging into that dark water to either rescue mother or to my doom….”

“How did you survive?”

The smiled seemed lost, “I don’t remember. There was another terrible shudder, more screaming, so much dying and those around me falling into the water and simply being drowned in that water and sewage….” Looking at him, “Dante’s hell would have had no equal in what I saw, John. But I simply have no memory of how I survived. I remember nothing how I got off that sinking nightmare and unto the shore of the Thames. It is quite strange….”

“What do you remember?” John’s profession was coming through again, but that was the nature of being a would be medical student he told himself. “Do you remember much?”

“Waking up on the shore.” Looking at the cemetery, “Maybe my fascination with such places stems from what I went through. I remember waking up on the shore, on the pier I suppose. It’s a vague memory but I was shocked I was alive. My unseen rescuer nowhere to be seen. That I found strange that whoever this person was they did not stay around long to see if I was alive and okay or not. I have often convinced myself that it was indeed my long dead father giving me help…His ghost doing his beloved child one last service?” Softly, sadly, “Mother was lost beneath the Thames river.”

“I am sorry for your loss on both accounts.”

“I remember standing somewhere, looking about me, my clothes soaking wet and I was cold, very cold. It was a strange cold I might add, I could not get warm…” Laughing at his look of puzzlement, “I even thought what you are thinking, I am dead, I am already a ghost, no one can see the poor little girl shivering and looking lost and terrified. I started to cry at my strange and unpleasant state until someone placed a blanket upon my poor frame from the¬† shivering dreadful cold and they repeated over and over that it was okay…”

“People will try to comfort best they can.”

“I remember looking up into the face of a woman and it was apparent she was a nurse of some kind…she was gentle, kind, and tried to warm up the terrified twelve year old girl that I was.” The odd look returned to her features as if remembering something her twelve year old self vaguely understood, “I even remember her comment about my dark red hair. It was a remark I would later understand when I met her own daughter…she would become my best of friends after I got over the shock and tears of what I had lost. They took me into their homes…”

“Would I know these kind people? I don’t think I have met your parent’s or this new found sister.”

“No, but they were indeed very kind to a orphan girl. I think they felt that their own daughter, my beloved little Isabella, who was two years younger than I, could use a older sister. I became her big sister. She too had that hair…”

“You speak fondly of them.”

“They had no reason to take me in but they did. I was their daughter from the moment I was found an orphan and brought home. Me and Isabella took to each other very quickly.”

“You seem to speak of them as if they are gone, Felicity.”

Softly, “Me and Isabella are all that are left of them. They caught the cholera. It was another terrible time for me and Isabella….”

“Where is your sister now, if it isn’t being too impolite to ask.”

She smiled with an odd look of someone pleased about something, “Do you believe in ghosts, John?”

A little puzzled by the question, “I don’t know. I have never seen one I am sure…”

Laughing a bit, “Don’t be so sure about that, John.”

Deciding to play along, “I assume you are not one as you told me you are not.”

“I remember I did fall into that Thames of yours. I sank beneath the Thames for a brief moment, I say that because I have a memory of doing so. I remember choking on that sewage and Thames river, I remember feeling lost and a violence being done to me as I sank into the water. I do remember it so briefly I do sometimes wonder even today if it did happen. But it did.” Leaning a bit forward, studying something only she could see thought John in the cemetery they still remained near. “I remember a very strange brief moments of that terrible night, I remember drowning and yet not dying. Because there I was on the shore. I was alive…” She looked at him with a look he didn’t like for some reason.

John fondled the head of his walking stick, he felt strangely uncomfortable, “But you are alive.”

“Yes, I am very much alive.”

“And Isabella?”

“Very much alive as well.”

“You speak in riddles my delightful, Felicity.”

“Yes, I suppose I do because most of my life has been one of one riddle after another. Because as I remember I was drowning and I also remember hearing a voice in those unpleasant murky beneath the Thames waters….”

“Voices?”

She laughed at his look, “I am sure it was all imagination, dear John, as I was busy drowning. I have that memory in such a vivid dream like scene in my head I am not sure I didn’t die and come back to life somehow.”

“You still speak in riddles.”

She smiled at something, “Have you been hearing of those dreadful murders in Whitechapel, John. Terrible murders of those four women.”

“Dreadful business indeed, Felicity.” He found himself for some reason holding unto his walking stick tighter, “Strange subject to bring up all of a sudden.”

“Is it?”

“I do because it seems an unfit subject for such a young lady.”

She looked at him with a penetrating look, “Someone is killing women so I don’t see how it doesn’t concern me, John. There’s a monster on the loose in London…”

“We are not in Whitechapel.” He didn’t mean for the tone to be so cold, “I am only saying that I am sure you are very safe with me and where we are….”

Felicity smiled at her own private thoughts, “I suppose I do speak in riddles and half memories. But that is the way my life has always been, John. I remember drowning but I certainly didn’t drown or die. I am here. I am very much alive and have been for a long time.” A thought seemed to make it’s way into her next comment, “I simply remember drowning I think and, well, waking up someone else?”

John was taken back, “You woke up someone else, Felicity? Strange comment.”

She seemed troubled all of a sudden as she stood up in the coach, seemed to notice something in the cemetery, “I believe in ghost, John. I believe something happened beneath those waters of the Thames I can’t explain. One minute I do feel like myself and can explain much about myself. Then, well, it’s as if….” She jumped off the coach and stood on the firm ground and stared at the ancient place she always felt drawn to for ten or so years, still talking, “I have memories I don’t recall as mine, John. I remember drowning but I don’t remember….” Walking toward the old iron fence, “I remember Felicity…I am…was Felicity….”

John frowned as he felt a coldness to the air, “You are Felicity.”

She was still talking as she pressed herself against the fence as if staring past the scene before, “I even remember Isabella…she was my….who was she?””

He slowly dismounted the coach and stood his ground, strangely clutching the walking stick, a cold fear was creeping into his mind, “Isabella was your sister….”

The young girl turned around, everything about her was different, the scream was in pain and sounded very lost, the eyes blazed dark brown, the once red hair fell to her shoulders in strands of dark brown, “Who Am I! Why do I remember drowning when I didn’t!” Lunging toward him the face screaming with a terror of the lost, “I remember drowning, John, I remember drowning but not here!”

John stood his ground more uncertain than terrified by the sight.

“John, who am I! Why do I have memories I don’t recall as mine…” She attacked him with a terrible ferocity that he had no choice but to defend himself with the stick. The terrible blows ended her attacks. The stick shattered on the fifth or sixth blow as the bloodied and shattered woman collapsed to the ground dead. John back away in horror of his actions, heard a constable’s whistle somewhere in the direction of Whitechapel, stared at the horror he had committed upon the poor girl. He backed away in horror even more as the body seemed to loose all cohesion and melt into a mass of what was once a human being and into a puddle of dirty red water and muck that smelled of the Thames River.

He ran with terrible thoughts and a horror of what he saw until he was walking a bit calmer somewhere in Whitechapel.

 

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