Christmas Ghosts: An Excerpt from Alan M. Clark’s A Brutal Chill in August

One of our favorite Christmas traditions, particularly popular in the Victorian era, is the telling of ghost stories. Something about the long nights of winter, the glistening of ice, and the clouds of breath that form as you step outside evokes the supernatural, the uncanny. Perhaps the most famous of these stories is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but other notable Christmas ghosts include Dickens’s “The Signalman,” M. R. James’ “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” Edith Wharton’s “Afterward,” and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival.”

With all that in mind, Word Horde is proud to present a new Victorian Christmas ghost story, in the form of this excerpt from Alan M. Clark’s stunning tale of Polly Nichols, first victim of Jack the Ripper, A Brutal Chill in August

A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark

13
A Tempting Choice

On Monday morning, December 20 of 1875, Polly hid away the tinplate toys she’d bought for the children’s Christmas stockings—a steamship for John, a train for Percy, a horse-drawn carriage for Alice. As she imagined the children’s faces when they received their gifts, a knock came at her door. She answered the knock to find Judith had arrived early. Dorrie wasn’t with her. The cold and windy air outside tried to push its way in. Judith didn’t respond when invited to come in, so Polly stepped out and pulled the door shut.

“At first I couldn’t decide,” the woman said, “but I have, at present. Dorrie will begin school in the new year. She’s with her grandmother now and during the holidays. No longer shall I come on Mondays and Fridays.”

Perhaps Polly should have seen the day coming, since Percy was the same age as Dorrie, and he had already begun at the infants school. Polly had happily let go of her daytime duties of minding Percy, especially since the discovery she was pregnant again. She hadn’t told Bill or Papa about the pregnancy. Although she loved her children, she didn’t look forward to having yet another so soon.

Her surprise left her struggling unsuccessfully to think of a way to change Judith’s mind. Finally, Polly said simply, “I’m not prepared for the change.” Straining against the chill breeze, she knew she looked as if she might cry. “Could we do it just a bit longer until I can make other plans?”
Judith appeared unmoved. “No, I shall not have a child to keep during much of the week and shan’t need your help. I have plans for Christmas to think about today.”

Indeed, she wasn’t a good friend.

Polly hung her head wearily. “You’re lucky you don’t have the quick womb I have.”

“Are you knapped again?” Judith asked with a frown.

“Yes.”

“It’s not my luck,” Judith said. She grimaced slightly, then asked, “Haven’t you asked Bill to wear a sheath on his manhood?”

“He won’t.”

“Swaine does, and when that fails, I know how to end a pregnancy. There’s a woman can help you.”

“The Church tells us that’s murder.”

“Yes, well, a life unloved and spent in poverty,” Judith said, coldly, “what’s that?”

Polly had no answer. Judith started to turn away.

“Please,” Polly said, “I must have a drink today.”

“And that’s the difference between us,” Judith said. Shaking her head, she turned and walked away.

Polly stepped back inside, and slammed the door, shutting out the biting cold.

The woman’s abrupt manner aside, her suggestion about abortion made Polly uncomfortable because of the tempting option the procedure presented. She considered abortion wrong, and believed that if she took the option, she’d be guilty of murder. Apparently, Judith had chosen just such murders in the past.

Still, Polly believed the life in her womb would be better off if it never saw the world. With each child she’d had, her ability to provide for them, the time she had to share with them, her capacity for affection, and, yes, she admitted to herself, even to love them, had diminished.

What had Judith said? “A life unloved and spent in poverty.”

Perhaps if God knew how Polly felt, He would help. Yet, the Lord should know already what she held in her heart, even if the feelings were a jumble. Polly wanted the best for the three children she had, and if that meant she shouldn’t have another mouth to feed, another heart to soothe and love, then possibly He should take the infant in the midst of her pregnancy. The idea that she might have a miscarriage gave her a small hope which she knew must be dismissed, but which she clung to for fear that if she didn’t, God might not know her preference. The conflict within her turned to nausea. Although most likely mere morning sickness, the discomfort bore with it a chilling uneasiness.

She didn’t have time for such distraction, and tried not to think about the matter further. Her schedule for the afternoon required her to print a broadsheet that advertised a boxing match. She had the materials, including a nicely done woodcut of men preparing to punch each other while others in the background cheered. She needed to take care of Alice first. As she occupied herself, stoking the fire, cleaning the dishes and the pot used to prepare the meal from the night before, nausea and disquiet continued to hound Polly. Her hands trembled and her heart periodically hammered in her chest.

Finally, she promised herself that she’d find a moment to say a prayer for the infant in her womb and one for Judith. That did little to calm her.

She hurriedly fed Alice a midday meal of bread and butter, then placed her in the bed, wrapped in a faded red wool blanket, hoping the girl would take a nap. Before beginning work on her broadsheet, Polly found her moment for prayer. Alice had become quiet, and a calm came into the room, but not into Polly. The conflict in her heart had turned to an unaccountable foreboding. She voiced the words before she’d had a chance to think them through.

“Please O Lord, take this child now before it’s too late.” Polly regretted her plea immediately. While trying to persuade herself that God understood that she meant for the child not to suffer, she knew her true motive to be self-serving. After years of carefully avoiding any mention of herself in prayer, she’d found a new way to demonstrate her selfishness to God. She quickly said the penitent prayer from Mr. Shaw’s well-worn card, but she didn’t feel any better.

Polly couldn’t do her work. Feeling naked before the eyes of the Lord, she paced. When Alice began to stir, Polly knew she disturbed the child’s slumber. She had to get away.

Stepping outside, she had the intention of pacing the lane’s granite footway outside her door. Having traveled half a block up Trafalgar Street, she decided she should keep going. She imagined walking the two or more miles to the docks, and stowing aboard a ship headed to some land where people believed in a different god, one who would not know her so well.

Then, she remembered she’d left the front door open. She broke out in a sweat. Her heart moved uncomfortably as she thought of a stranger entering her room while Alice slept. She imagined John and Percy coming home from school to find nobody home, their confusion and sadness when they found out their mother had abandoned them, and so close to Christmas!

Polly turned and walked back the way she’d come.

Although the shame had become so large inside her that she saw little else, she knew that her children needed her.

* * *

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Obligatory Awards Eligibility Post

As we come to the end of another year, it is traditional to look back through the last 365 days and take stock of one’s accomplishments. In 2016, Word Horde published five books: Furnace, by Livia Llewellyn; The Lure of Devouring Light, by Michael Griffin; The Fisherman, by John Langan; A Brutal Chill in August, by Alan M. Clark, and Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart.

If you read and enjoyed any (or all) of these Word Horde books in 2016, we ask that you consider nominating those books in their respective categories in the Hugos, Locus Awards, Nebulas, Bram Stoker Awards, or similar awards. Likewise, the Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories we published this year that are eligible for your awards consideration. Plus, we’ve included a list of Related Works you may have otherwise missed. Thanks for your consideration, it means the world to us!

Best Collection:
Furnace, by Livia Llewellyn
The Lure of Devouring Light, by Michael Griffin

Best Novel:
The Fisherman, by John Langan
A Brutal Chill in August, by Alan M. Clark

Best Anthology:
Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Best Novella:
“The New Soviet Man”, by G. D. Falksen (10738 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“The Black Vein Runs Deep”, by Michael Griffin (38620 words, The Lure of Devouring Light)
“The Human Alchemy”, by Michael Griffin (11043 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“The Un-Bride; or, No Gods and Marxists”, by Anya Martin (11669 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Mary Shelley’s Body”, by David Templeton (27611 words, Eternal Frankenstein)

Best Novelette:
“Wither on the Vine, or Strickfadden’s Monster”, by Nathan Carson (9342 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“The Jewel in the Eye”, by Michael Griffin (8862 words, The Lure of Devouring Light)

Best Short Story:
“Thermidor”, by Siobhan Carroll (3490 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Sewn Into Her Fingers”, by Autumn Christian (5540 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Orchids by the Sea”, by Rios de la Luz (1772 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“The Beautiful Thing We Will Becone”, by Kristi DeMeester (4010 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet”, by Orrin Grey (5874 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Dreaming Awake in the Tree of the World”, by Michael Griffin (4248 words, The Lure of Devouring Light)
“The Accident of Survival”, by Michael Griffin (3609 words, The Lure of Devouring Light)
“The Book of Shattered Mornings”, by Michael Griffin (3948 words, The Lure of Devouring Light)
“Living”, by Scott R Jones (2759 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982”, by Livia Llewellyn (6256 words, Furnace)
“Frankenstein Triptych”, by Edward Morris (3180 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Postpartum”, by Betty Rocksteady (6649 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Torso Heart Head”, by Amber-Rose Reed (1312 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“They Call Me Monster”, by Tiffany Scandal (3233 words, Eternal Frankenstein)
“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”, by Damien Angelica Walters (4900 words, Eternal Frankenstein)

Best Publisher:
Word Horde

Best Editor, Short Form:
Ross E. Lockhart

Best Editor, Long Form:
Ross E. Lockhart

Best Original Cover Art:
A Brutal Chill in August, Alan M. Clark
Eternal Frankenstein, Matthew Revert

Best Related Work:
Word Horde Presents John Langan, interview by Sean M. Thompson
“The Soul of You” Music Video, (“The Soul of You” as sung by the Bonehill Ghost in the novel A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark. Song produced by Matt Hayward. Lyrics by Alan m. Clark. Music by Michael Green. Vocals by Gerard Smith. Piano by Anna Muhlbach.)
Facebook Live: Eternal Frankenstein Launch Party at Copperfield’s Books
Live-Blogging Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, Alan M. Clark

 

REVIEWERS: If you missed any of these books, drop us a line and we’ll be happy to send you an electronic reading copy for consideration. publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com.

There’s Still Time to Read the Best Books of 2016 Before the End of the Year

If a Word Horde book was one of your favorite reads of 2016, we hope you’ll help us tell the world by sharing a link, posting a review, telling a friend, or nominating for an award.

And with that, here’s our 2016 lineup. Books make great holiday gifts! Thanks for helping us make 2016 our best year yet!

 

Furnace, by Livia Llewellyn.

furnace“Beautiful and hideous in the same breath, its 13 tales of erotic, surreal, existential horror pack a logic-shattering punch. […] Llewellyn is steeped in the eerie tradition of H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, and a sympathetic sense of dislocation and dread permeates Furnace. […] Bursting with blood and shadow and dust, with horror and wonder.” –Jason Heller, NPR

 

The Lure of Devouring Light, by Michael Griffin

lure“Michael Griffin’s The Lure of Devouring Light is one of those rare first story collections that defines both the writer and the genre, with stories that linger long after the last page is turned. In a year already full of amazing collections from established as well as new writers, we feel this is one collection that will remain one of your favorites for years to come.” —This Is Horror

 

The Fisherman, by John Langan

fisherman“In his superb new novel The Fisherman, John Langan also manages to sustain the focused effect of a short story or a poem over the course of a long horror narrative, and it’s an especially remarkable feat because this is a novel that goes back and forth in time, alternates lengthy stretches of calm with extended passages of vigorous and complex action, and features a very, very large monster.” —The New York Times Book Review

 

A Brutal Chill in August, by Alan M. Clark

abcia“Everything about this novel inspires admiration. It reveals terrible things about the world of London’s poor, yet it is a work of great beauty, ceaselessly entertaining and compellingly readable. The rigging of a ship burning in the fire at the London Docks ‘sparkles like a spider web dripping with dew at sunrise’. When we finally meet Jack the Ripper, he emerges from the darkness like an ordinary man, smelling of sulphur and soap. A Brutal Chill in August is a triumph.” —Ripperologist Magazine

 

Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart

frank“This impressive compendium contains a rich array of short stories inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. […] All of the writing is high quality, all the stories are suspenseful, and though most involve reanimation of the dead, the perspectives all differ, as do the historical time periods. […] The anthology would make an excellent college classroom companion to Frankenstein because of its relatable narratives interwoven with history and biography, as well as some vivid present-day tales (particularly Tiffany Scandal’s “They Call Me Monster” and Damien Angelica Walters’s “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”) that address bullying, loneliness, and body image.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

 

A shout-out to the crew at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma, CA for helping us show off our books.

 

PS: Just noted at Tor.com: John Langan’s The Fisherman and Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace make the list: Reviewers’ Choice: Best Books of 2016:

“Langan’s novel is deliberate, elegant, and beautifully written; the horror and trauma of these two men is explored to the bone, and in the end, knowing them so well only makes the horrors to come that much more terrifying. If you enjoy horror, I’d highly recommend this incredible novel.”

“…the collection that most stayed with me—I read it back in January—was Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace and Other Stories. Vicious, beautiful, and darkly erotic, these stories got under my skin in the best possible way.”

 

Happy Halloween! Enjoy “Strange Beast,” by Orrin Grey

Tonight, monsters walk the streets. Werewolves, witches, and weirder things, hungry in the darkness. Listen to them, their footfalls, coming down the sidewalk, across the driveway, up the path to your door. They knock, and when you open the door, they intone the ritual cant: “Trick or Treat!”

So here’s a treat (and a trick) for all you monsters and monster-lovers out there, from a guy who knows a thing or two about monsters. This is “Strange Beast,” by Orrin Grey. This story first appeared in Orrin’s Word Horde collection Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts. So unwrap a fun-sized candy bar, sit back, and enjoy…

 

STRANGE BEAST

by Orrin Grey

 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following manuscript has been assembled from notes left behind by Kennedy Sanchez, who was contracted with Deanna Bloom of Fetlock & Burridge to produce a book-length work entitled Last Days on Monster Island. The manuscript was never delivered, and Ms. Sanchez returned her advance seven days before she drowned in the swimming pool of her Tallahassee apartment complex. A subsequent police investigation ruled the drowning an accidental death. In reproducing the notes, sections printed entirely in italics indicate hand-written passages in the margins of the rest of the notes, which were printed out from her word processor and sometimes copied-and-pasted from websites. No actual manuscript for the proposed book was ever found, and the notes are presented here exactly as written.]

 

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Launch Party for Eternal Frankenstein

This Friday night, October 28 at 7 pm, join us at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma, CA as we launch Eternal Frankenstein. There will be tricks, treats, and author readings by Amber-Rose Reed, Anya Martin, David Templeton, and Ross E. Lockhart.

frankiesinatra

Two hundred years ago, a young woman staying in a chalet in Switzerland, after an evening of ghost stories shared with friends and lovers, had a frightening dream. That dream became the seed that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, a tale of galvanism, philosophy, and the re-animated dead. Today, Frankenstein has become a modern myth without rival, influencing countless works of fiction, music, and film. We all know Frankenstein. But how much do we really know about Frankenstein?

Word Horde is proud to publish Eternal Frankenstein, an anthology edited by Ross E. Lockhart, paying tribute to Mary Shelley, her Monster, and their entwined legacy.

Featuring sixteen resurrecting tales of terror and wonder by:

Siobhan Carroll
Nathan Carson
Autumn Christian
Rios de la Luz
Kristi DeMeester
G. D. Falksen
Orrin Grey
Michael Griffin
Scott R. Jones
Anya Martin
Edward Morris
Amber-Rose Reed
Betty Rocksteady
Tiffany Scandal
David Templeton
Damien Angelica Walters

Eternal Frankenstein edited by Ross E. Lockhart

RSVP and more details here.

Mysteries of Elizabeth Stride

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In researching the life of Elizabeth Stride, the third victim of Jack the Ripper, for my novel, Say Anything But Your Prayers, I discovered several fun mysteries beyond the most obvious one concerning the identity of her murderer. In the process of writing a fictionalized account of her life, I had to make sense of the mysteries, and that meant coming up with reasonable story elements to stand in for missing information. One of the most interesting mysteries involves a misidentification of her body while it was at the mortuary. I will get to that shortly. First a couple of smaller mysteries.

On the surface, Elizabeth and her husband, John Stride, seemed to have had good opportunities. They opened a coffee shop in London in 1870. Although the shop was moved to two other locations within the city over time, they ran it until 1875 when their ownership of the business was sold. John Stride was a carpenter during a time when London was growing in leaps and bounds. Despite these endeavors, in the end, the couple was impoverished and both spent time in the workhouse.

Concerning the coffee shop—the Strides could have been terrible at business. In researching the possibilities, I discovered another likely explanation: The Ceylon coffee crop, which was the main source for the British Empire, was all but destroyed by a fungus known as coffee rust in the early 1870s. As a result of the damage to the crop, the price of coffee might have become too high.

Concerning John’s carpentry—yes, London was growing by leaps and bounds, but the industrial revolution had eliminated so many jobs throughout the countryside and the unemployed flooded into the city to find work. Competition for jobs was fierce. Any stain on a worker’s reputation might leave him out in the cold, and that could include not making the required “contributions” to organizations that organized carpentry work and workers. Victorian London was a challenging environment in which to live and thrive. The possible reasons for a lack of success for John Stride’s carpentry are endless. I chose one that made sense within the context of the tale I was telling and helped further the plot.

Two days after Elizabeth Stride’s death, on Tuesday, October 2, during the inquest into her murder, a woman named Mary Malcolm testified that she’d seen the body at mortuary twice and was certain it was that of her sister, Elizabeth Watts. She said that she met with her sister each Saturday on a street corner to give her financial assistance. She’d been meeting her for that purpose for at least three years, yet on the previous Saturday, her sister didn’t show up. Mrs. Malcolm recounted a strange experience she’d had that night. “I was in bed, and about twenty minutes past one on Sunday morning, I felt a pressure on my breast and heard three distinct kisses. It was that which made me afterwards suspect that the woman who had been murdered was my sister.” This occurrence, coincides approximately with the hour of Stride’s death.

Under questioning by the coroner, Detective-Inspector Ried, and the Foreman of the inquest, Mrs. Malcolms said of her sister, Elizabeth Watts, that she’d once had a policeman as a lover, that she’d lived with a man who kept a coffee shop in Poplar, that she’d gone by the nickname Long Liz, that she was a drunkard who had been arrested more than once for public drunkenness, and that she’d gotten released from jail on one occasion by saying that she was subject to epileptic seizures. All six of these descriptions seemed to also hold true for Elizabeth Stride.

Mrs. Malcolm said that in part she could recognize her sister’s body because the right leg had a small black mark. “It was from the bite of an adder. One day, when children, we were rolling down a hill together, and we came across an adder. The thing bit me first and my sister afterwards. I have still the mark of the bite on my left hand.”

The Coroner had already received information from other borders at the common lodging where Elizabeth Stride had been living that the body was hers. He instructed Mrs. Malcolm to go as usual on the upcoming Saturday to the corner where she met Elizabeth Watts to see if her sister turned up.

Elizabeth Watts—who had taken the name of her current husband and was named Elizabeth Stokes—did turn up. When the inquest reconvened on Tuesday, October 23, the woman became a witness, declared herself very much alive, and said many things meant to discredit Mary Malcolm.

Still, there are the six elements of description Mrs. Malcolm gave that fit Elizabeth Stride. I found only weak explanations for this mystery. Applying the principle of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is that Mary Malcolm lied, but coincidentally offered up so many descriptions that actually fit Elizabeth Stride that she might have been believed if Elizabeth Stokes had not shown up.

The solution to the mystery that I chose seems to be the next-simplest, and helped me to further develop the character of Elizabeth Stride. I had a lot of fun fitting my solution into the greater puzzle of her life.

Say Anything But Your Prayers, was released by Lazy Fascist Press in 2014. The novel is the second book in my Jack the Ripper Victims series, the first being Of Thimble and Threat, about the life of Catherine Eddowes—Lazy fascist Press in 2011. Exploring the long gone, but not lost world of Victorian London has been an immense pleasure for me as I perform research for the books. The first two volumes within the series are also available in one ebook titled Jack the Ripper Victims Series: The Double Event.

ABrutalChillInAugust_cover

The third novel, A Brutal Chill in August, about the life of the first victim, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, was released on August 31st, 2016, the 128th anniversary of her death.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

The artwork with this post: “Her Client” copyright © 2014 Alan M. Clark.

h2>About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com

The Flotsam and Jetsam of History

If you love words as I do, you probably love history. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years writing historical fiction. In performing research for the novels, I’ve leaned about the origins of certain English words and phrases I’ve used in both written and spoken language throughout my life, but didn’t completely understand. Although many expressions that came into existence long ago are still in use and their meanings as idioms are clear to us, the original meanings of the phrases may be lost without a search in history.

Because the gun played such a large role in events over the last few centuries, many idioms are related to firearms of the past. Here are a few that are still widely used, but the context of their origination not widely known.

Lock stock and barrel is an expression we use to mean “all of it.” I used to think it meant the whole store, like a mercantile of some kind. It means the whole rifle or musket. The lock is the firing mechanism, the barrel is, well… self-explanatory, and the stock is the part that helps you hold onto the firearm.

Bite the bullet means expose yourself to possible pain and danger to get a job done. Many people believe it originally meant to bite down on a lead bullet to endure pain, perhaps while having a surgical experience without an anesthetic, but it comes from a time when to prepare a rifle for firing you had to bite the end off a paper-wrapped cartridge before placing its contents in the barrel of your firearm. Doing this while under fire took brave resolve.

Stick to your guns means remain true to principles or goals. The expression has less to do with guns per se and more to do with maintaining a particular post during battle, especially if you’re told to hold a position without retreating. Well, of course you will need that gun, won’t you?

Flash in the pan in an idiom we use to mean a great start but little or no follow up. It’s a great metaphor for a one hit wonder in the music industry who puts out a single very popular tune, yet never does any better afterward and soon falls out of favor. To do justice to this one takes some explaining, so bear with me.

The original meaning comes from a time when pistols, muskets, and rifles had flint lock firing mechanisms. To load a flintlock firearm, gunpowder was poured into the barrel followed by a lead ball, called “shot,” wrapped in a bit of rag to make it fit snugly and hold everything in place. A small pan beside a hole in the side of the barrel was primed with a little gunpowder and then protected from spillage by a hinged iron part called a frizzin (see the diagramed illustration above). When the trigger of the flintlock was pulled, the hammer, which held a piece of flint did two things: it struck sparks off the iron frizzin and knocked that hinged part off the pan. With the frizzin out of the way, the sparks could reach the powder in the pan and ignite it. The hot expanding gas of the lit powder was meant to travel down the small hole in the side of the barrel and ignite the powder behind the lead shot. If this last step didn’t occur, there was merely a flash in the pan and the gun didn’t actually fire.

Understanding the metaphor of this idiom creates a mental picture that enhances the meaning of the expression. A flash in the pan is an exciting event, with a hiss, a flash, and billowing smoke, but the results are disappointing if that isn’t followed by the loud crack of the shot flying from the barrel and striking a target. Without the mental picture some of the power of the expression’s metaphor is lost.

The original meanings of many single words are unknown to most of us today. I’m thinking of several having to do with the production of linen. A lining, like what you might have in the inside surface of your coat, means something made from line flax. Line flax is the fibers of the flax plant that don’t break off when run through a device that looks like a small bed of nails called a hackle (aka heckle). The fibers that survive going through a hackle and remain long are spun together to make fine linen thread (note the word “line” in “linen”). So a lining is something made of linen. The lining of my stomach or my water heater is not made of linen, though. When my dog gets upset, wants to look bigger and more threatening, he gets his hackles up, but that doesn’t mean he has metal spikes sticking up out of his back. In the past, the flax fibers that broke off short in a hackle were called tow flax. They weren’t good enough to make fine thread and were spun into a rough cord to make tow sacks, which are much like the burlap sacks of today. Tow fibers are very blonde, but a tow-headed child doesn’t have tow flax for hair even if the tyke is referred to as flaxen-haired. The act of drawing flax fibers through a hackle is known as heckling. The purpose was to worry, to tease (in the old sense, meaning to comb), and straighten the fibers to determine which would stand up to stress and were worth using for linen production. When a stand-up comedian is heckled, that doesn’t mean he’s drawn through a small bed of nails to straighten his fibers and break off his weak parts. Okay, so maybe it does mean he’s being teased, but still, you get my point.

Here’s an expression I like a lot: flotsam and Jetsam. It’s not the most commonly known phrase, but it’s still a fun one using curious words, and I want to use it in the last paragraph of this post. We use it now to mean odds and ends. For example, somebody might say, “The project is finished except for the flotsam and jetsam of small problems I discovered along the way.” Flotsam and jetsam are separate nautical terms, but frequently appear together, both as words and in the context in which the words have meaning. Flotsam is the remnants of a shipwreck that floats on the sea after a vessel has gone down. Jetsam is what is jettisoned from a ship going down to lighten its load and help it stay afloat longer.

In the time in which the idiom, flash in the pan, came into existence, the context from which it emerged was well-known to most individuals. An expression like that becomes popular perhaps because it’s frequently used in conversation as a metaphor in lieu of lengthier descriptions. If an idiom becomes useful enough that it’s overused and becomes cliché, it will be so universally understood that the significance of its original context can be discarded. It can far outlive the simple context of its birth. The idiom still performs a meaningful function although many who hear it and repeat it may not understand where it came from. Although the expression, flash in the pan is very much alive, having outlived the technology of the flintlock by more than a century, the metaphor it presents can be considered broken since most people today don’t understand how the firing mechanism works. I’ve heard and used many idioms for years in partial ignorance. As I became more interested in history, the original meaning of some idioms came clear. Finding the discovery satisfying, I became much more curious about the origins of words and phrases, and my interest in history intensified.

My latest historical fiction novel is the Word Horde release of A Brutal Chill in August, part of my Jack the Ripper Victims Series. Because the stories take place in Victorian times or earlier among English speaking people, British or American, they employ characters that use the language a little bit differently than we do today. The trick is to provide scenes in which the context makes clear the meaning of what is being said. The characters are involved with simpler, humbler domestic and labor situations and technologies often in early development or infancy.

ABrutalChillInAugust_cover

I like to think of idioms with broken metaphors as flotsam of history. The ship has long since gone under, taking its passengers with it. Phrases remain, floating above the wreckage on the surface like lost luggage, filled with words that once had specific meaning, and, in combination, still have an idiomatic meaning. The specific sense of the words might have been lost, but the phrases still have value. We all claim salvage rights from time to time, but often don’t ask the simple questions: Who owned these expressions and why did they find them valuable? If we seek answers to the questions, we can learn something about those who left them behind and perhaps find out why the phrases float so well even today.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

h2>About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com

Now Available: ETERNAL FRANKENSTEIN!

It’s alive! ALIVE!

Our latest anthology, Eternal Frankenstein, is now available.

Eternal Frankenstein edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Two hundred years ago, a young woman staying in a chalet in Switzerland, after an evening of ghost stories shared with friends and lovers, had a frightening dream. That dream became the seed that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, a tale of galvanism, philosophy, and the re-animated dead. Today, Frankenstein has become a modern myth without rival, influencing countless works of fiction, music, and film. We all know Frankenstein. But how much do we really know about Frankenstein?

Word Horde is proud to publish Eternal Frankenstein, an anthology edited by Ross E. Lockhart, paying tribute to Mary Shelley, her Monster, and their entwined legacy.

Featuring sixteen resurrecting tales of terror and wonder by:

Siobhan Carroll
Nathan Carson
Autumn Christian
Rios de la Luz
Kristi DeMeester
G. D. Falksen
Orrin Grey
Michael Griffin
Scott R. Jones
Anya Martin
Edward Morris
Amber-Rose Reed
Betty Rocksteady
Tiffany Scandal
David Templeton
Damien Angelica Walters

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Cover Design by Matthew Revert

Historical Terror: Horror That Happened—London’s Murder Weapon

Detail from “In the Dark, In the Night” copyright © 2013 Alan M. Clark. Cover art for EAST END GIRLS by Rena Mason

Was Jack the Ripper a monster, larger than life, beyond our comprehension? From all that has been dramatized about the killer, one might think so. But no doubt the killer was merely a man, with the fears and frailties of an average human being.

If I could go through his pockets, I’ll bet I’d find that he carried common, everyday items that helped him maintain his physical and mental wellbeing in the world of Victorian London. If that’s true, it would tell me that although he was an extreme danger to society, he was subject to the physical and emotional trials we all go through in life.

allthatshedneed_small_sepia

“All that She’d Need” copyright © 2014 Alan M. Clark. Interior illustration for JACK THE RIPPER VICTIMS SERIES: THE DOUBLE EVENT by Alan M. Clark

The clothes we wear and the items we carry on our person say something about us. I wear shirts that button up the front. I never wear t-shirts. If asked why, I might say that I don’t think t-shirts are flattering to my middle-aged abdomen. I carry numerous keys because I want access to areas and items I lock up. One can easily deduce therefore that I’m doing more than most would to secure my stuff against theft, and that might say something about how many times I’ve been robbed. I slip my keys into a flexible glasses case before putting them in my pants because they chew holes in my pockets. I got tired of paying for new jeans just because the pockets were ruined, so it’s reasonable to assume I have been concerned about money during my life and learned to be frugal. I carry lip balm because I have the nervous habit of chewing my lips and making them chapped. What have I to be nervous about? That’s a good question. I carry a cloth handkerchief to wipe my nose instead of using paper tissues which might have something to do with my desire to preserve the natural world. For reasons I won’t reveal here, I carry a pocket knife and have no cell phone.

All these things say something about what I think and feel in my daily life, most of it of no consequence to anyone, but if I were a suspect or victim in a crime and the truth about me was important to discern, useful conclusions about who I am might come from considering these things.

Beyond the savagery of the Jack the Ripper killings, the murderer is perhaps most defined by his choice of victims; common, poor women who would have been forgotten in time if not for the compelling manner of their deaths.

With the idea that to know something of the women is to know something about the Ripper, I became interested in the possessions of the victims. The possessions of the murdered women, found at the crime scenes, provide a glimpse of their lives and speak volumes about the time in which the White Chapel Murderer lived. The people of 1888 London didn’t have the mp3 players and electronic tablets we have today. They didn’t have car keys, water enhancers, thumb drives, and anti-anxiety medications, but they did carry items useful to them in their time and circumstances.

Here are lists of the belongings of the first four victims of the Ripper as found at the crime scenes:

Mary Ann Nichols (Polly Nichols)nichols_beforeandafter_small

Clothing:
A black Straw bonnet trimmed with black velvet
A reddish brown ulster with large brass buttons.
A brown linsey frock
A white flannel chest cloth
A pair of black ribbed wool stockings
A wool petticoat stenciled with “Lambeth Workhouse”
A flannel petticoat stenciled with “Lambeth Workhouse”
Brown stays
Flannel drawers
A pair of men’s boots with the uppers cut and steel tips on the heels
Possessions:
A comb
A white pocket handkerchief
A broken piece of mirror (This would have been a valuable item for one living in the work house or common lodging)

Annie Chapmanannie_chapman_small

Clothing:
A long black, knee-length figured coat.
A black skirt
A Brown bodice
An Additional bodice
Two petticoats
A pair of lace up boots
A pair of red and white striped wool stockings
A neckerchief, with white with red border (folded into a triangle and tied about her neck)
Possessions:
A large empty pocket tied about the waist, worn under the skirt.
A scrap of muslin
A small tooth comb
A comb in a paper case
A scrap of envelope containing two pills.

Elizabeth Stridestride_beforeandafter_smallest

Clothing:
A Long black cloth jacket, trimmed with fur at the bottom
A red rose and white maiden hair fern pinned to the coat.
A black skirt
A black crepe bonnet
A checked neck scarf knotted on left side
A dark brown velveteen bodice
Two light serge petticoats
A white chemise
A pair of white stockings
A pair of spring sided boots
Possesions:
Two handkerchiefs
A thimble
A piece of wool wound around a card
A key for a padlock
A small piece of lead pencil
Six large and one small button
A comb
A broken piece of comb
A metal spoon
A hook (as from a dress)
A piece of muslin
One or two small pieces of paper
A packet of Cachous. (a pill used by smokers to sweeten breath)

Catherine Eddoweseddowes_beforeandafter_smallest

Clothing:
A black straw bonnet trimmed in green and black velvet with black beads
A black cloth jacket with trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur and around the pockets in black silk braid and fur.
A dark green chintz skirt with 3 flounces and brown button on waistband.
A man’s white vest.
A brown linsey bodice with a black velvet collar and brown buttons down front
A grey stuff petticoat
A very old green alpaca skirt
A very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces and a light twill lining
A white calico chemise
A pair of men’s lace up boots. (The right boot was repaired with red thread)
A piece of red gauze silk worn around the neck
A large white pocket handkerchief
A large white cotton handkerchief with red and white bird’s eye border
Two unbleached calico pockets with strings
A blue stripe bed ticking pocket
A pair of brown ribbed knee stockings, darned at the feet with white cotton
Possessions:
Two small blue bags made of bed ticking
Two short black clay pipes
A tin box containing tea
A tin box containing sugar
A tin matchbox, empty
Twelve pieces white rag, some slightly bloodstained
A piece coarse linen, white
A piece of blue and white shirting
A piece red flannel with pins and needles
Six pieces soap
A small tooth comb
A white handled table knife
A metal teaspoon
A red leather cigarette case with white metal fittings
A ball hemp
A piece of old white apron
Several buttons and a thimble
Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets
A Printed handbill
A printed card calling card
A Portion of a pair of spectacles
A single red mitten

I have not included the possessions of the Ripper’s fifth victim, Mary Jane Kelly, because she was killed in her own bed, in her abode, and her possessions were not provided by the police reports in the same way.

These lists speak to me of women who had little of material worth in the world. Not one of them had any money. During the period in which they lived, unemployment and severe poverty were widespread in London. Regardless of whether the Ripper’s victims had few opportunities to live better lives or were responsible in large part for their predicaments, their legacy is pitiful and poignant. Items such as the brown stays, the comb, and the packet of Cachous suggest vanity or at least the need to maintain appearances. The tin of sugar, the one of tea, and the black clay pipes speak of a desire for creature comforts. The bloodstained rags, the pieces of soap, tooth combs (toothbrushes) were aids to bodily functions. Those things that are part of a incomplete set, such as the single mitten, and the broken items, like the partial pair of spectacles and the piece of a comb, suggest that nothing could be wasted; that everything, even if seriously flawed or deficient was irreplaceable.

With little imagination, the lists speak of skills, preparedness, resourcefulness and even aspirations on the part of these women. The list of Catherine Eddowe’s garments and possessions conjures for me the image of a Victorian-era bag lady, wearing many layers of clothing and carrying too many items in her bags (the many pockets, most of which were probably hidden under her top skirt). The only thing missing is the shopping cart. We have limited information about Eddowes’s life, and most of it leaves out the emotional aspects of her existence. We can assume she didn’t set out to become a bag lady, to be homeless and poor.

swiftpassage_small_sepiaWhat events in her life led to her demise on the streets of London? How much of the way she lived was a result of the choices she made? What was beyond her control? Was she chosen randomly by her killer?

I became fascinated enough with the questions that I explored her life and presented possible answers in my historical fiction novel, Of Thimble and Threat, published by Lazy Fascist Press. Catherine Eddowes had led a hard life and was very ill at the relatively young age of forty-seven when she died. My impression is that her choices had something to do with securing her wellbeing and placing her at risk, but that much of her existence was beyond her control. A life of poverty in London was slowly killing her, and the final blow, London’s murder weapon so to speak, was Jack the Ripper.

Still fascinated with the environment of late Victorian London, I explored the life of Elizabeth Stride, the Ripper’s third victim, in fiction in Say Anything But Your Prayers, also released by Lazy Fascist Press. Having thus started a string of novels, I titled it Jack the Ripper Victims Series, and went on to write about his first victim, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols in A Brutal Chill in August, which was released by Word Horde in August 2016.

ABrutalChillInAugust_coverI refer to the Ripper as male because of the name Jack, but of course we don’t know the gender of the killer. Although we can’t know much about the Whitechapel murderer, we have information that tells us something about him and offers a glimpse of the world in which he and his victims lived. We can surmise that he was in most ways as vulnerable as his victims in a dangerous, often merciless world, that he was no doubt as aware as they were of the need to maintain appearances and to achieve the highest social position possible in order to ensure survival in a swiftly changing environment, and that he probably understood that eventually disease and death would claim him without ceremony and that he would die, just like everyone else. Perhaps, as he considered these things, he was filled with a pitiable fear like that experienced by his victims.

Most of us spend much of life feeling confidently alive, solid and incorruptible, not thinking about our demise, our eventual loss of facility and faculty, our loss of awareness and identity and finally the decay of our flesh. Those of us who have not seen war or violent crime and disaster turn to face our demise slowly over many years as it dawns on us that we are just like those who have gone before us, that we all suffer and die. But to face that terror precipitously, to have the process demonstrated within moments, to be the playwright and director of that drama—that is what the Ripper experienced.

maryjanekelly_small

Crime scene photo of Mary Jane Kelly.

Could he identify with the women he’d murdered and feel their suffering? Having revealed to himself by his own cruel acts the heights of fear and pain and the terrifying frailty and ephemeral nature of flesh and awareness, was his dread of a particularly intense nature?

If his freedom or his life were never taken from him in answer to his crimes, did he at least suffer from the revelations of his own mortality? I would like to think that he did.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com

THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS Liveblog Part 27

InuitThe last chapter of The People of the Abyss is titled “The Management.” In it, Jack London compares the health, happiness, and personal wealth of the average Londoner of 1902 to that of the average Inuit of Alaska of the time, and concludes that those living in the more primitive setting enjoy a much better life than do those of the most sophisticated society on the planet. Since, as he says, civilization has increased man’s productivity such that one working man can produce for many, he concludes that mismanagement is the problem—indeed, criminal mismanagement.

He calls for a reordering of society. As a socialist, no doubt he hoped that a socialist system might emerge that had the best interest of the average human being in mind.

A lot of political history has been made since 1902. The socialist systems that emerged in that time, such as those of the USSR and China, have often been insular, authoritarian, and headed by corrupt governments. I believe that the capitalist system within the U.S. wouldn’t have been much better if not for the tempering influence of socialist programs.

I am a moderate. I want leaders willing to compromise while having the best interests of average human beings in mind.

The chapter raises a worthy question, just as did the end of chapter 24. Would human beings of his time be better off returning to the wild rather than living the way they did in the greatest civilization in the world.

Here are his words again from the end of chapter 24: If this is the best that civilisation can do for the human, then give us howling and naked savagery.  Far better to be a people of the wilderness and desert, of the cave and the squatting-place, than to be a people of the machine and the Abyss.

Jack London saw human industry impoverishing, sickening, creating despair, and ultimately killing those at the bottom rungs of society in Great Britain. With his indictment of civilization, I have to wonder what he saw in our future. He died while World War I raged, a conflict that seriously discouraged those looking to see what lay ahead for mankind. Setting aside human conflict, could he have imagined a future in which human industry and society threatened all life on the planet through global warming, and the polluting of our air, water, and soil?

Not that I think human beings should or even could return to the wild, but I have long believed we must shed the “man against nature” mindset that drove us to conquer the world and reshape it to suit our own purposes despite the destruction to life and habitat. I do not believe we were given the world as a home to shape at will, but instead must learn to see the Earth and its ecology as more important and valuable than ourselves.

I enjoyed reading The People of the Abyss, and found the history as revealed by London’s eye witness account fascinating. If you read the book or intend to, I hope you are as enlightened by the experience as I’ve been.

Please consider reading my new novel, A Brutal Chill in August, currently available from Word Horde on August 30. It is the story of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, the first victim of Jack the Ripper. The environment in which the story takes place is virtually identical to that described in these related blog posts. If not for the extraordinary manner of her death, she might well have been forgotten. Like many throughout history, she had a simple life, but not one without controversies and drama. As with all of our stories, simple or complex, rich or poor, it’s the emotional content and context that counts.

Thank you for reading my posts.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Get a free ebook copy of The People of the Abyss from Project Gutenburg—available in various formats including Kindle and Epub, : http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1688

Now available, A Brutal Chill in August ABrutalChillInAugust_cover

Visit Alan M. Clark online: www.alanmclark.com

About Alan M Clark ControlledAccidentAutoPortrait

Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including ten novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com