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Rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAIN

 

Above the splattering rain and noise, the crowd shouted insults to their heart’s content. Like the execution of King Charles, a procession of black marched towards the gallows, minus a monarch, plus the thick fog of London. It was justice in progress. Shackles clanked, clunked.

The man in front had a grin so wide his eyes squinted into crescent moons. He stood a scarecrow: tall, perhaps once handsome, covered in bruises. Water dripped from his patchwork rags, once grey, now black from the moisture and flying soot. Behind him followed two priests, hands folded, chanting with their eyes rolled towards the sky. Then came the three magistrates, four guards, a red-headed woman, and a dozen angry villagers.

A magistrate coughed. The crowd fell silent.

“For the murders of Dr. Henry Baugh, Mr. Scott Estel, and our beloved Mayor and philanthropist, Sir Harold Foxworth, you are hereby sentenced to death.”

“Please George,” said the red-haired woman.

“May God have mercy on your soul,” said both priests at once.

The man continued to grin.

Two guards grabbed his arms and pushed him towards the noose.

“Any last words?” said the magistrates.

“Please George,” said the woman.

The man glanced at her, then at everyone else. The crowd shrank back as his gaze swept over them. “Shoot me,” said the man. The magistrates exchanged glances.

“Shoot me,” he said. “But do it with a smile.”

Thunder roared. A flash of lightning hit the gallows. One of the guards panicked. A gun went off. Bam! The crowd fell silent.

When the air cleared, a shaking guard stood splattered in blood, holding a smoking pistol. On the ground laid the grinning man, dead, but still grinning. The red-headed woman buried her head in her hands.

“Please George,” she said. “Stop smiling.”

 

…..

 

March brought with it splattering rain. Five children sat under a bridge to avoid the downpour. The river flooded, rushing towards the sewers with everyone and everything. A handkerchief, a top hat, someone’s cat, meowing as it dropped behind the gutter bars.

The little red-haired girl held out her hand. “This is paper, and if you make a sideways peace sign, it’s ‘scissors’. Scissors beats paper, but rock beats scissors.” She balled her hand into a fist. “This is rock. It loses to paper, okay?”

The two ash-blond kids nodded: a pretty girl with pigtails and a chubby boy. Height-wise, they were smaller, but all three wore rags too big for their persons.

The boy looked at his palm. “Can I be ‘paper’, Riley? I like the paper sign.”

The blond girl swatted him on the shoulder. “You’re not supposed to tell her, you dummy,” she said. “The point of the game is to pull a fast one over your enemies and beat’em.”

“But I don’t want to pull a fast one,” said the boy. “I want Riley to win.”

The other girl groaned.

“It’s okay, Suzy,” said the boy. “You can win too. I—”

Suzy smacked him on the head. “You’re stupid,” she said. “I don’t want to play anymore.” She got up and moved next to the other two kids. The boy with the news cap latched onto her arm. The other, the freckled one, went on whistling.

“Wonder when Old Man Foxworth is coming,” said the news-capped boy. “He found Isaac a home last week. It oughta be my turn this time, right Ed?”

“Keep dreaming, Jimmy” said freckles. “It’s gonna be me this week. He’s been taking us by age, member? Isaac was ten. He’s gots a whole year on me.”

The other boy counted his fingers. “But that means I don’t get to go until Suzy’s gone. It’s gonna be you, then Suzy, then me, then Riley, and then George cause he’s only seven.”

“Seven and a half,” said the chubby boy. He jumped to his feet and kicked the other boy in the shins. “And I’m bigger than you.”

“No you ain’t,” said Suzy. “You’re just fatter than him.”

While the others laughed, George ran and huddled by Riley. “They’re so mean,” he said. “I miss my mommy.”

Riley patted his head. “She’s in a better place with all of our mommies,” she said. “It’s okay. Smile, Georgy. Everything will be better when we get new families.”

“Yeah,” said Edmund. “We’ll be warm again, and fed, and I’m gonna get myself a cricket bat…” He made a swinging gesture, as if clutching the equipment.

“I want a new dress,” said Suzy.

“And a whole roasted chicken,” said Riley.

“And stockings full of marshmallows.”

“Yeah, marshmallows.” Edmund stared into the rain. “Wish old man Foxworth would come already. Probably caught in the storm. Wish there was no rain.”

“It’s okay, Ed,” said Riley. “I’m sure he’ll come tomo…” She suddenly inhaled. Her hand shot out, pointing into the distance. “Look.”

A silhouette appeared through the fog, growing bigger and more defined as it got closer. Footsteps sloshed against the liquid soil. Before the children stood a well-dressed gentleman in his late forties, carrying an umbrella, with his graying hair tucked under a tall hat. His shoes shined beneath a coat of mud.

“Hello children,” said Mr. Foxworth. “Have we been good this week?”

The five kids nodded. Suzy hugged the old man’s waist.

“You came,” she said. “We thought you wouldn’t come because of the rain.”

Mr. Foxworth patted her head. “Don’t be silly. Nothing could keep me from you children.” He reached into his pocket and handed each of them a piece of candy. “There, there,” he said. He pulled out a silver chain with the letter “E” and handed it to Edmund. “For you, so the others will recognize you someday when you meet again. Are we ready to leave, Edmund?”

Edmund nodded.

The other children waved as their friend followed Mr. Foxworth down the road and into a carriage. “It’s my turn next week,” said Suzy. “I hope I get a family who likes little girls.”

The rain stopped next morning, and did not continue until the week after.

“I swear God’s playing a trick on us,” said Jimmy. “Why does it only rain when Mr. Foxworth’s coming?”

“Maybe he’ll still come.” Suzy sat by the edge of the bridge, staring into the distance. “He came when it was Edmund’s turn. Maybe…”

And then they saw him. Out of the fog appeared Mr. Foxworth, with an umbrella in hand and a tall hat on his head.

“Here you go, your weekly sweets,” he said, giving each child a piece of candy and Suzy a silver “S.” “I found a nice doctor to take in Suzy. He likes children a great deal, and he’s anxious to meet his new little girl.”

Suzy cheered. Riley thanked him. George coughed.

He kept coughing. Riley patted him on the back.

“What’s wrong with him?” said Mr. Foxworth.

“He’s always sick,” said Jimmy. “Something’s wrong with his heart. We don’t got no medicine, so we just give him water and hope he gets better. Riley looks after him.”

Mr. Foxworth studied George for a minute. Riley looked from him to George. “Maybe you could make an exception this time, Mr. Foxworth, and take Suzy next week? George really needs a doctor.”

“No!” Suzy jumped to her feet. “It’s my turn. I want a new home. I want my new daddy.”

“You can go next time,” said Riley. “George is getting worse each week.”

Suzy burst into tears and buried her face in Mr. Foxworth’s coat. “Please take me,” she said. “I want a family so much.”

“There, there,” said Mr. Foxworth. “I’m afraid Suzy has a point. I already promised the doctor a young girl, and I’d hate to break her heart over a week’s wait.” He pushed Suzy towards the carriage. “Come along, little one.”

As the three watched Suzy disappeared, Jimmy leaned back against the bridge and crossed his arms. “Guess I’m next,” he said. “Wonder who I’m gonna get.”

“Couldn’t you let George go before you?” said Riley.

Jimmy turned away. Riley put her hand on his shoulder.

“Please?” she said. “For a friend?”

“No!” Jimmy sprung up and pushed her away. “You don’t get it do you? We’re only friends because we all got nowhere to go. But now I do, and I’m gonna go, even if I never see any of you again.”

Tears welled up in Riley’s eyes. Jimmy bit his lip. “I’d give anything to be in a family, Riley. Anything… and don’t tell me you wouldn’t either.”

Riley turned away, swiping at her face.

“Don’t cry, Riley,” said George. “I can wait.” He turned his head sideways and smiled. “We’ll be okay,” he said. “Do you want to play a game?”

“Okay,” said Riley. “Thanks Georgy. And thank you for smiling.”

“It’s like you said, Riley. When everything seems grey, the least we can do is to remember to smile.”

The next week, Mr. Foxworth appeared through the fog and took Jimmy. The rain poured harder than ever.

“How are Ed and Suzy?” said Riley. “Are they better?”

“Naturally,” said Mr. Foxworth. “You would hardly recognize them.”

He took Jimmy and left. Later that week, the rain relented. Riley and George sat on top of a tavern roof, watching the city.

“I wonder if we’ll ever see Jimmy again,” said Riley. “I hope that the sweet shop owner will be good to him.”

“I’m sure he will. Mr. Foxworth said that man makes the best pudding in London. Jimmy might end up bigger than me.” George giggled. “And then his hat won’t fit him anymore.”

At the thought of a plump Jimmy waddling down the street, Riley giggled too. It was such a silly idea. And silly ideas were welcome at the end of rainy days.

“You should go next week, George. I’ll ask Mr. Foxworth to let you go before me.”

“Can’t we go together?” George scooted closer as a group of men bellowed below in a drunken riot. “Hey, Riley? Let’s still be friends after we get new families, okay?”

“Of course,” said Riley. “We’ll be best friends forever.”

“And when we grow up, can we get married so we can live in the same house?”

“Good idea,” said Riley. “It’s a promise, then. The madness will end. And then there will be us.”

“We’ll always be together?” said George.

“Until death do us apart.”

The following week, Mr. Foxworth returned but refused to take George before Riley.

“It’s his turn next week,” said Mr. Foxworth. “We mustn’t do things out of order.”

He would not change his mind, despite Riley’s pleas. Amidst the howling wind and rain, Riley followed Mr. Foxworth to his carriage. George ran after them for as long as he could, then stood waving in the distance.

“Where are we going?” said Riley to Mr. Foxworth.

“To my house,” he said. “You’re going to be my little girl. I’ve always wanted a little red-haired girl.”

“Oh,” said Riley. She was quite flattered, but felt the need to ask for a favor. “Could I have George visit me sometimes? You know, when you find him a family too.”

For a moment, Mr. Foxworth said nothing. Then he put down his umbrella and turned Riley towards him. “George is not going to get a family,” he said. “No one wants a sick little boy. These are hard times. People already have plenty of problems of their own.”

“But can’t you at least try?” said Riley. “We can’t leave him under that bridge by himself.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Mr. Foxworth pulled her closer. “The boy has a heart condition. He will not be under that bridge for long.”

Riley couldn’t believe her ears. The generous Mr. Foxworth was going to leave George to die. The good Mr. Foxworth who found families for all the other kids. The Mr. Foxworth that was going to be her father…

Riley pulled away. “Let me out,” she said. “I’m not going to be your daughter anymore. I’m going to take care of George like I promised.”

She pushed at the doors. They wouldn’t open.

“I never said anything about you being my daughter,” said Foxworth. “You will be my little girl. My present to The Society, just like your friends were for mine.”

He grabbed Riley’s wrists.

“No!”

Riley struggled, but the old man tied her up and stuffed his handkerchief into her mouth. When the carriage stopped, the old man stepped out, carrying a fidgeting burlap sack.

“Welcome to The Society.”

Riley felt herself fall into tub of water. Splash. She wiped her face. The crowd roared with laughter.

“Happy baptism!” they said. A man with a lab coat turned on the gramophone. The room filled with circus tunes. Two other men grabbed Riley’s arms. “Say ‘ahh’ for Dr. Baugh!”

The doctor pried open Riley’s mouth and dumped a vial of silver powder down her throat. A sharp pain seared through her stomach. Riley kicked and screamed. Someone dumped her out of the tub. The crowd laughed.

Foxworth stood in the back, chuckling to himself. The music continued.

“Why?” said Riley. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“It’s not just you,” said Foxworth. “Look…”

He pointed to the wall behind the laughing men. Four bodies hung from the ceiling, wrists tied, tongues protruding, their eyes missing. Each had a slit in its stomach, the one on the far left covered in bronze crust, the one on the right still dripping blood. Around their necks, silver chains dangled with a single letter: I, E, S, J… Riley wanted to throw up.

Foxworth turned off the music. “So now you know,” he said. “Your friends were good company. That second one put up a fight. Lasted almost the entire week.”

He shook a vial of silver powder in front of Riley. “It’s a new type of drug Dr. Baugh’s been developing. A cross between a hallucinogen and a sexual stimulant. But without regular doses, the patient feels a searing pain that can’t be cured by anything but the drug itself.” He chuckled. “Relax, we only gave you a little taste. The full dose won’t be administered until after the pudding.”

“And before we forget,” said Dr. Baugh. “We have a surprise for you.”

Foxworth clapped. Someone turned on the music. The sound of shuffling feet caused Riley to look up. Two men dragged a small boy between them.

“Let me go!” George struggled against his capturers. “I have to save Riley.”

One of them kicked him in the stomach, and George doubled over at Dr. Baugh’s feet.

“A little show for you,” said Foxworth. “Since you care so much about your friend.”

He emptied the vial down George’s throat. For a moment, all Riley could hear was a horrid, high-pitched cry. Then it stopped. The music continued. George lay quiet on the floor.

Men gathered around, kicking him repeatedly.

“Stop!” cried Riley. “Please…”

The music got louder. A short, greasy man appeared, carrying a tray of brownish pudding. The men stopped kicking George. Each produced a spoon, digging into the pudding and sticking it in their mouths. Laughter ensued. The music continued. Someone congratulated “Mr. Estel” on his wonderful pudding. He took a spoonful and held it in front of George.

“Eat,” he said. “Little boys love pudding.”

George coughed. Estel grabbed his head and shoved more pudding in George’s mouth. The boy spluttered, coughing, choking. The crowd laughed.

“Do you know why my pudding’s so good?” said Estel, holding a spoonful to Riley’s mouth. Riley shied away. Estel shoved the spoon in her mouth. The searing pain in Riley’s stomach returned. The pudding was awful.

“It’s magic,” said Estel, clapping his hands together. “A pint of blood, a pinch of flesh, and a whole heaping helping of our new medicine.” He leaned closer. “It gives my pudding the extra kick.”

“Riley…”

George coughed. A crowd of men gathered around him. “More, more!” they chanted. One man fed George another spoonful. The crowd laughed harder.

Estel licked his fingers.

“How about I make you into pudding for your little friend over there?”

The whole room laughed as Riley crawled towards the door. Estel took out a knife. George writhed on the ground. The men clapped their hands. “Pop goes the little girl,” they said. Estel raised the knife above Riley’s head. She closed her eyes.

“Riley.”

Laughter.

“Riley!”

Laughter.

“RILEY!”

Clang!

The pudding tray clattered to the ground. Riley watched in horror as a man’s head rolled towards her, spurting blood and covered in pudding. Estel dropped the knife.

“No more.”

George climbed to his feet. “A pint of blood, a pinch of flesh, and a whole heaping helping of our new medicine.” He picked up the knife. “No more pudding, Riley. There’s no more putting.”

“Easy boy,” said Foxworth. “You don’t want to do anything you’d regret.”

“Best friends forever, Riley. Until death do us apart.”

He plunged the knife in the closest man.

“Pull a fast one over your enemies and beat’em.”

Blood spurted from the wound. George pulled out the blade.

“And a whole roasted chicken.”

The hallucinogen kicked in. Riley grabbed his arm. “George…”

The room blurred. She couldn’t remember what she wanted to say. George looked down at his friend.

“Riley.” He laughed. “It’s okay, Riley. I remembered to smile.”

The men backed away from the laughing boy.

“He’s crazy,” said one.

“It’s the devil!” said another.

“Run!”

Riley scrambled to her feet and dragged George out the door. The rain pounded on them, noise fading. The wind howled. It was God’s punishment for her, for being foolish, for dragging down George.

For not having parents.

“Wait, Riley!”

Riley kept running, tears streaking down her face. They made her friends into pudding. Jimmy, Suzy, Edmund… They made her eat her friends.

“Wait, Riley!” George pulled against her grip. Riley stopped. She shouldn’t cry. She still had one friend.

George tugged on her sleeve, soaking wet and laughing. “I remembered to smile, Riley. I remembered.”

Riley wiped at her face.

“Let’s—”

A pain shot through her stomach. George held her up. “Riley, are you okay?”

“Let’s go,” said Riley. “Let’s run away and never come back.”

“We can’t do that Riley,” said George. “We need medicine. Mr. Estel put it in his pudding. Let’s go back, okay? Let’s go back for the pudding.”

Riley shook her head. Never again.

“Then in a few years, okay Riley? Let’s come back for the pudding. We have to. You promised. The madness will end. And then there will be us.” He put his arms around her. “And we’ll always be together.”


Rain

It's clear on Monday, it's sunny on Tuesday, it's bright and cheerful every day of the week... except Adoption Day. Five orphans huddled under London Bridge, careful to stay dry while waiting for their mysterious benefactor. Why wouldn't it stop raining for poor old Mr. Foxworth? What did God have against him? A short story on murder, pudding, and Victorian England

  • ISBN: 9781311814937
  • Author: Blanche King
  • Published: 2015-12-10 08:20:06
  • Words: 3101
Rain Rain