Belladonna - Clover
“What’ll it be, love?”
“Just white with one, thanks.”
The red and white spiraled pole across the street was chipped and faded, half secluded in the early morning mist. From the tea house, he could make out the apartment above the barber. It was dark inside, no suggestion of movement.
“That barber across the road, do you know him?”
The waitress took a conspiratorial tone, “Oh that man? He’s Welsh, I hear. Inherited the business from some late uncle, I hear. Seems kind enough.”
“And does he get a lot of… visitors?”
She blinked. “That man? Oh only the one, Sir. Young woman comes by after hours, Sir. In fact, saw her walk out of there only an hour or two past, looking flustered.”
“This woman, taller, dark hair?”
“That’s her. Only, what’s it to you, Sir?”
“Oh, just looking into it for a friend. Nothing untoward, naturally.” Clover slid a pound bill across the table.
The stairs behind the terraced house groaned under Clover’s weight as he leant in to listen at the second storey entrance. He pulled a paper box from his pocket labelled ‘BD’ and slipped a purple pill dry down his throat, breathing heavily.
“Evidence,” he muttered. “I’ll get your evidence.”
The door was unlocked, with the lounge beyond all askew. The pillows slumped on the chaise lounge in subtle disarray, a pair of wine glasses on the low table beside it.
On the far wall, a cross hung crooked by a reproduction of Caravaggio’s Judith. Holofernes’ eyes followed as Clover walked to the bedroom door, slightly ajar.
Within, he could make out curled brown hair on a beaded pillow, the hint of an unmoving cheek dappled with morning light.
“Mr. Gorsley, the door was open. I hope you don’t mind that I let myself in, but I just have a few questions to ask-” he cut himself off.
Clover’s hand hovered between his paper box and the pocket that held his revolver. A sharp smell surged from the room and a bead of sweat rolled between his shoulder blades.
“Now Mr. Gorsley, I’m going to come in there.” The smell of the sewer and a sharpened blade. “I hope you don’t mind.”
The door creaked in. Gorsley’s head, turned away to gaze through the window at the teahouse, ended in a ragged stump. His blood stretched in arcs across the bed, along the Turkish rug, and mingled with the detailing of the wallpaper. The chandelier held his chest, opened like a melon, and dangling dark red strings over the bed trunk. Clover eyed half a foot on the floor in front of him, split from the third toe to the heel. He coughed and slid another purple pill down his throat, to stop him identifying the rest of the artwork.
He found himself slumped against the teahouse wall, course bricks against his back, the box rattling in his hands. Light glared off the windows above the barber, two eyes in the brick facade. His breath came back to him, his shoulders loosened, and he pulled his way to his feet.
Clover stumbled to a hansom cab and flipped the driver a coin.
“Islington, and fast. Got a gent to see about his wife.”
He was out of the cab before it stopped rolling. The cobbled street glistened from the fresh rain, which diluted a splatter of blood outside the man’s green door. It was an ugly green, Clover thought, his feet firm on the middle step. A faint whimpering leaked from beyond it, just quiet enough that he could have imagined it.
The hallway was well appointed but dimly lit, the gaudy wallpaper lacking its desired shimmer. The whine was just barely louder here. Clover was reminded of a gnat he’d shared a room with in Italy, that hum on the edge of comprehension. It seemed to come from the stairs, bouncing off the plaster walls.
As he got closer, another instrument joined the orchestra. A snapping, slurping sound.
On the second floor he found two doors, side by side. The right was closed, but the left had been flung open. From the stairs he could see white linens, silk curtains fluttering in the wind, and a pair of sturdy leather shoes, toes in the air. That sickly slurping had grown louder. As he watched, one foot twitched, as if in the hands of a puppeteer.
Clover slipped the revolver from his pocket and crept closer, a few feet from the doorway. The sounds were clearer now, but still muffled, the slurps breaking up the atonal moaning.
He edged closer still, pushing past that same metallic stink. He wrapped a shaking hand around the door frame and pulled himself in.
The husband’s body was easier to look at, the same older man he’d met a week past. His legs bent outwards in zags, his torso pressed flat and kneaded into the ground. In detail, he watched a whining mouth wrap around the flesh of his face, sink deep, and pull, as the foot kicked again.
That mouth was coated in blood, but the skin underneath was perfect, porcelain white. Dark hair hung smooth around her face, one eye rolling back in her head while the other scanned the body with an animal intelligence. Out from behind her hair was a circular pattern of flesh - all the pieces of her body, her legs, her ribs, her spine, were twisted into dozens of arms that made a wheel like the Ophanim. Each pale limb darted around her in some foreign dance as she sank her teeth again into the body.
The gun slipped from Clover’s fingers and fired as it landed. The bullet ripped through her, just above the face, but she barely flinched. Both eyes were on him.
She clambered forwards, her whimper rising into a screech. Clover leaped towards the gun, but she was already there. Three of her hands snapped around his neck and upper arms, and another sent a series of clawed jabs at his chest. He was on one knee, straining for the revolver by the leather shoes, just a breath away.
His finger stroked the weathered wood of the handle before another of her arms grabbed his wrist and, in a smooth movement, snapped his arm at the elbow.
Clover howled and crumpled to the floor by the husband. She placed a thumb under his chin, the other fingers around his skull, and forced his mouth closed. Her web of limbs pulled him in as he barely struggled, their whimpering mingling songs.
She pressed her forehead against his, their noses touching as she cradled him. Their eyes were wide but not for the same reason, and he noticed that she was beautiful. They were perfectly still for a moment until, with a quiver through her mass, she sniffed him.
Then he was on the ground, and the husband’s body was in a pair of her arms. She burst out of the window, the gentle light sparkling in the spray of glass, leaving Clover breathing heavily on the hardwood floor. He sucked another pill down his throat.