RIPPED is a novel that’s been hanging around since 2014. I wrote the first draft in a fevered rush after THE DAMNED had been picked up with my first publisher, Duckworth, riding high on hope and inspiration.
In my eyes it was, and still is, the best thing I’ve ever written. So I was all the more amazed when my agent passed on it and some in my writing circle had ‘issues’.
Now, with the benefit of five years hindsight, I can see where there are ‘holes’ which need filling and I am currently in the process of getting them filled.
Anyway, here’s the original opening chapter.
London. Friday 31st August, 1888
She never made a sound as I killed her.
Not a whimper or a cry, nor even a final plea came, as I choked the life from the woman and the last of her breath slipped away, sounding like surf receding down a beach. Her lifeless eyes rolled to the ceiling of the carriage, as if staring to the path her departing spirit would now be taking.
I watched her in that first moment of stillness, a cold calm engulfing me like an invocation. At first I felt nothing, my mind closed like hers, seemingly incapable of thought or perception, aware of nothing, not even time itself. Indeed, it appeared to me as if time had stopped, as if my sudden and unanticipated act had somehow tricked it, that I had torn a hole in the very fabric of the dimension through which I had slipped and that time was now trying to catch up with me. And whilst I sat in the carriage with her lifeless body my only witness, I found my trickery had empowered me with a coherence I had never before experienced.
I found my perception to my surroundings suddenly attuned with a shocking clarity. It seemed that every facet and aspect of the city around me now rose up and assaulted my senses, the narrow cobbled streets smelling of manure and hay, the cesspools of human workhouses, the acrid stink of the coal-charged night air, the rot from the slaughterhouse floor, the slow lap of waves in the Thames, the choking sewer of human waste winding its way to that poisoned river, a barked maniacal cry from an asylum, the clink of keys, the breaking of bones by a corrective truncheon, the gas works, the fat boilers, the malters sweating beside the churn from their vast copper vessels, the sharp sting of mercuric nitrate from the fell monger, the dazzle of moonlight on the tumbled down tiled rooftops, all of London about me never resting, always stirring, laid bare to my every enquiring whim.
For a fleeting moment I wondered if my actions had made a God of me, such was the lucidity of all I heard and smelt and felt. But then I laughed, quite unexpectedly, my own modesty mocking me. For I knew I was many things, but a God I knew I was not.
I did know, however, that I could now call myself a murderer.
The realisation struck me like a blow and, at once, time seemed to catch up with me, sweeping back into the carriage and making me shudder and blanch at its keen return.
I quivered and looked down at my hands, a slight ache in the joints from where I had gripped her neck. They were motionless, still betraying none of the emotion I felt within. The ease by which I had killed her surprised me, how effortless it had been to extinguish a life. Its significance was not lost on me, the fragility of our existence on this world blazing bright within my mind, as if my brain was now forever branded with this knowledge, the recognition that life is so very unlikely and precious and perilous in every waking moment of it.
Her name was Mary Ann Nichols and she stank of gin and the gutter. She had skin like china, but the sort long buried in the ground and then dug up again so that the very fabric of the stone is ruined beyond repair. Her face was swollen and round, as if death had already bloated her features, and her body was paunchy and generous on account of the large number of layers she wore to keep out the inquiring cold.
Beneath them I perceived her to be only a tiny withered thing.
Outside, in the pitch of Whitechapel, a cat slipped on tiles and sent one of them tumbling to the cobbled street below, the crash like blasphemy in that raw enveloping silence. I paused, looking to the window and listening to make sure no one had been drawn to investigate, before turning back to Mary Ann and pulling her petticoats back down around her ankles from where she had lifted them, thinking she was to accept me as a customer. Something caught the moonlight from the carriage window on her left hand and instantly I tore the wedding band from her finger, the sight of it sickening me. I dropped it into a deep coat pocket, wiping my hand on the rich fabric of my coat, as if soiled by touching the ring.
I noticed how her eyes still stared blankly upwards, the colour of them pale like those of a blind man. They unsettled me, and I drew forward with my hand to close them, noticing next how her mouth was turned upwards at the corners, sneering. I looked again and realised her mouth wasn’t in fact sneering but smirking, as if belittling what I had done, this first tentative step I had taken along my path, as if she knew I had still such a long way to go and questioned whether I was capable of completing the journey. It disturbed me to think it, see it, to observe how she had been reduced to malice at her moment of her death.
“I know, Mary Ann,” I whispered quietly, fixing my thumb and fore finger to her mouth to force it straight, “I know I have much to do. But every journey must start with a first step and you are mine.”
Hard barked laughter shared between two people up the street snagged me fast and I froze, my eyes locked to the corner of the carriage, my ears pricked. I listened, barely daring to move lest the carriage I was in sway and draw the drunken revellers towards it to investigate. But the laughter and accompanying footsteps passed on and I let the air slowly out of me. I took it as sign to delay no longer.
What moon there was barely broke through the blanket of cloud above, as I stepped quickly along Buck’s Row, my medical case in my left hand, Mary Ann over my shoulder, as I might carry a sack of potatoes if I was so inclined. Every now and then a shard of silver moonlight cut through the cloud cover and caught the cobbles of the street below, turning them to grey, a vague pale light daubbing the front of the terrace houses.
And then, just as quickly, night triumphed and swallowed up any remaining light.
The dark of that place and how I was to work within it troubled me, but as I laid the body down, her back against those cold filthy stones, at once the clouds parted and I was struck by the moon’s full light, as bright as any theatre within which I had operated. The revelatory radiance transfixed me, as if this moment had long been preordained by the planets themselves. I felt that I stood not within a street of London but in a lecture hall, an enraptured audience watching me with baited breath, waiting for my performance to begin, for the first incision to be made.
I would keep them waiting no longer.
Opening my case, the eight inch Liston blade came quickly to my hand. I swallowed back on any nerves and raised the blade to the heavens, the bright oval spotlight above, watching my hand and knife form a perfect silhouette in front of the moon.
“To you this blade I offer,” I called skywards, my voice faltering with the gravity of what I was about to do. Everything I had considered and planned and dreamed distilled itself into this one moment. “And this body,” I continued, looking down at the woman prostate beneath me, my feet planted either side of her shoulders, “I dedicate to you.”
I crouched lower and swallowed, my dry throat crackling in my ears. I flickered a tongue across my lips in vague hope of moistening them, raising the knife in my left hand over my right shoulder.
“With this first faltering strike, I cast out any doubts,” I declared, the words like a spell, bringing the blade down into Mary Ann’s shoulder and across her neck, a feeble blow, just enough to glance skin and bone from her collarbone, only narrowly catching the front of her throat. The fabric of her coat at her shoulder turned a rich crimson and a narrow rivulet of blood appeared from the shallow wound at her neck.
I was aware of a hardening in my face and that I now held the blade more forcefully in my hand.
My lips pursed to a tight knot. “From this time onwards, when I strike,” I commanded, drawing the knife back up high above my shoulder, feeling the muscles in my arm tighten in anticipation of violence, “I strike with authority and control!”
Then, with every ounce of my strength, I slashed the blade hard across Mary’s Ann’s throat, the blow cutting deep into her neck and driving clear of the right side, a thick splattering of blood cast across the pavement slabs, black against the moonlight.
I turned back to the moon, breathing heavily, my brow dotted with sweat.
“Hiram Abiff, chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple, I have struck in the same manner by which your enemies were struck. Empower and guide my hand!”
Looking down at the corpse, I shuffled backwards over the body and knelt either side of her thighs, ruffling up the many petticoats so that they lay bunched across her chest, her naked belly like a round of pork on a butcher’s block.
The tip of the blade sank effortlessly through her skin, just above her belly button, two, three inches into her rich flesh. Blood bobbled up from the wound and trickled in cloying puddles down her sides, as I drew the blade towards me in a single firm cut. So little blood, I pondered, as my knife worked the wound wider, wide enough for me to pass both hands inside and grasp at the organ I was seeking. It is as if the poor waif has been bled dry by life itself.
For a little time I fished around inside of her until my hands clasped around what I was looking for, my fingers working their way around it for a firmer hold. It made a sound as it came free, like a tree root does when plucked from the ground. And then my hands were clear and the bloodied dripping thing was in front of me. I shuddered and wept, my mouth slackening, my chest heaving.
“Elijah! Elijah, you were right!” I cried, my eyes heavy with tears, watching in wonder and disbelief, holding the thing of my fixation up in front of me. “We are all full of light!”