I closed my front door, entered the lounge - and gasped. Jesus Christ! I fought back the bitter-tasting bile flooding my mouth. Counting from one to ten as I slowly exhaled, I took a second look. This time the vomit won, and splashed onto the blood-soaked floor.
My eyes streaming and my knees trembling, I tried to control myself. I forced myself to think back to the first autopsy I’d witnessed – the coroner had said he’d never seen anyone puke so much. I recalled the first dead body I’d seen. I hadn’t been sick that time – but, then, the old lady had just been asphyxiated. Okay, the first victim of bloody, violent murder I’d seen? Decapitation. Yes, I’d heaved up, of course. I can still vividly remember the startled expression on the woman’s face. Now, was I, a big, roughie-toughie police woman going to be bothered by what I saw – and smelt here?
I don’t know where the second burst of vomit came from. I hadn’t even had dinner – and wasn’t likely to now. What a mess to come home to!
Sweating, my throat feeling red-raw, a foul taste in my mouth, realisation suddenly dawned on me. It was the first of April! How had I fallen for it? (Chris would never stop the patronising ‘blonde’ jokes after this - I’d dye my hair dark). It had been a long day...
I shouted, ‘Very funny, Chris. Ha - bloody – ha.’
My ex had obviously taken some stage props from his theatre and had arranged the trick. It was all a sick joke. I glanced at the first ‘butchered victim’.
‘It does look realistic, I’ll give you that – that fleapit theatre of yours must be improving.’ I inhaled deeply. ‘Yep, and the stench is pretty convincing too. And, by the way, you can clean up my house now - this fake blood is going to take some scrubbing. My lounge looks like a bloody abattoir.’
He still didn’t answer.
I snapped, ‘I know you’re there, Chris. You’re the April bloody fool! If you think this is going to make me come back to you, you’re wrong. I might have considered it once, but after this, no way.’
The abdomen was slit open, its intestines spilling out like foul sausages. I felt his eyes on me and knew he had enjoyed my initial reaction.
‘Think this is funny? I remember you crawling around your mother’s floor, your baggy boxer shorts revealing most of your spotty ass as you puked for England!’
I irritably slapped the dummy, and leapt back. It was real! No one could fake the feel of dead flesh. I sniffed lightly. I’m sure I’ll never get used to foetid stenches like that. I gagged, but no more vomit emerged.
So, who were these women? Why the Hell had some maniac chosen my home as the crime scene? Did I know the killer? And, more importantly, was he still in my house?
In policewoman mode once more, I carefully checked each room. The house was empty. It was just me and five dead women.
I decided to take a quick look before calling my colleagues. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise – the gateway to my long overdue promotion. I concentrated on the job in hand, a perfume soaked handkerchief at my nose. Willing myself not to vomit, I looked in turn at each of the five women.
Several of the first murdered woman’s teeth were missing, her face badly bruised. The main blood vessels of her neck had been severed on both sides. Her abdomen had been stabbed and slashed repeatedly.
The second victim’s swollen tongue protruded obscenely, her face battered and swollen. Her throat slashed, her abdomen viciously hacked.
The third wasn’t so gruesome. The only apparent injury was the obvious cause of death. The woman’s throat had been slit.
The fourth made up for the third’s lack of goriness! Of course, he’d used his trademark, the slashed throat. She’d been opened from her rectum to her breastbone, her intestines ceremoniously draped over her shoulder. A cursory glance revealed that one of her kidneys and her womb had been taken. The nose and an earlobe had been removed. The woman’s features had also been disfigured – there were peculiar cuts on her eyelids and cheeks.
The fifth – oh, my God, the fifth! The body was only just recognisable as human. The face had been horribly mutilated. The victim’s ears, eyebrows, cheeks, nose and lips were slashed and hacked away. Her breasts were removed, her abdominal cavity emptied, and huge flaps of skin taken from her thighs and abdomen. He’d played hide and seek with the intestines, liver, spleen, and womb, and placed them in various locations around the body. So, where was the heart? I couldn’t see that anywhere. Before her throat had been slashed, the poor woman had obviously put up a fight – her hands and forearms were covered in wounds.
I felt too much horror to be nauseous. I imagined the deaths of the women. The fifth’s frantic battle for survival must have aroused him to a frenzy of slashing when he had finally overpowered her.
I heard a noise. Footsteps. My heart feeling as though it would leap from my chest, I listened. Heavy breathing. Yes, and whispering. So, he was still there, after all. Where the Hell had he been hiding?
He repeated my name, over and over, ‘Courtney.’ The whispers sounded more sinister than any noise I’d ever heard before. Far scarier than gunshots – even the sound of the bullet that had just missed my spine hadn’t filled me with such terror. Had I survived being paralysed to be mutilated by some deranged killer? I’d certainly fight with all I had. But if I lost, would the killer mutilate me more disgustingly than he’d carved up the last victim?
Exhaling slowly, I remembered my police training. I knew how to defend myself. I was learning kick-boxing and was a Green Belt in karate. He’d picked on defenceless women previously. I will not feel fear, I thought – but I did.
The whispers made my hairs stand on end. ‘Whore.’
I fought the urge to push my fingers into my ears. No, I had to be able to tell where the sounds were coming from. Alone, in the chamber of horrors with a maniac, I began to silently pray. Images of my dead parents and of my ex husband flooded my mind. Chris had been a jerk, but, at that moment, I would have given anything to have his reassuring bulk beside me. I would have even felt glad of his mother’s company – now, that was saying something!
I remembered how Chris had pestered me with telephone calls and letters, virtually begging for a second chance. When I’d threatened to report him for stalking me, he had fallen silent. Would he still want me? Or would he have found another woman? I decided if I came through it in one piece, I’d contact him. If he told me to get lost, so be it.
I heard the killer whisper again, sending new shivers throughout my body.
‘Saucy Jack is going to rip you, police whore.’
I clasped my hand to my mouth. Saucy Jack! Suddenly it all fitted into place. The Ouija Board, the strange message that I’d laughed about the night before, five murdered women: somehow, Jack the Ripper and his victims were in my house! My lovely new home; the Victorian house I’d always dreamed of. But why was he at my home? He’d obviously lived somewhere; perhaps the serial killer had lived there, once…
‘You can’t hurt me,’ I said, struggling to make my voice sound confident. ‘You’re…you’re dead.’
Insane laughter echoed throughout the house.
Trembling, I continued, ‘You butchered five women in 1888. This is 2012 – you, like those poor women, are long dead, pal.’
I waited for his response. Silence.
I thought back over the message spelt out on the Ouija Board. I hadn’t paid it any real attention, thinking that one of my giggling friends had been responsible. It had been a silly evening, the five of us getting drunk, toasting our status as ‘young, free and single’. Now, how had that message gone? I tried to remember.
‘The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing,’ the killer repeated.
I gasped, my heart literally missing a beat.
‘Yes, I can hear your thoughts, bitch.’ The laugh was far more menacing than the words. ‘I know all your secrets, Courtney, you filthy slut. Your husband doesn’t know what a vile mind you have. He thinks you’re not interested in sins of the flesh.’ Again, the evil laugh echoed.
‘Who are you, you bastard?’
‘Wouldn’t you like to know, you whore?’
The laugh didn’t scare me anymore.
I shrugged. ‘No, not really.’
‘They never caught me. Think you can do better?’
‘I was never interested in the case. I thought you were just some sad loser who had to get his kicks from mutilating defenceless women.’
The television exploded, showering the lounge with glass, as it was picked up by invisible hands and hurled across the room.
‘What a mess! How dare you! Look at my home! Blood and guts everywhere and now glass!’ My terror transformed itself into rage. ‘Who cares who you were! Maybe you were a doctor or a barrister or a member of the Royal family or’ – I thumped the wall – ‘AN ABSOLUTE NOBODY.’
The killer didn’t laugh.
‘Show yourself, coward. I’m a woman but I’m not weak like those five women you preyed on.’
I suddenly remembered the tiny bottle of holy water that Chris had brought back from a visit to the abbey at Monte Cassino. (I’d meant to throw it away, but hadn’t liked to, somehow – my only keepsake of our honeymoon in Italy. We had got on just fine for nearly the whole fortnight.) I knew exactly where it was: in the top left hand drawer of the bedside cabinet, beside the vibrator. My obsessive compulsive disorder for tidiness had driven Chris mad, but it had its positive side, after all!
I rushed upstairs, bracing myself to fight the killer at any second, and grabbed the bottle. I had never believed in the power of holy water but I had nothing to lose. It worked in horror films!
Sprinkling the water around the house, I again repeated fragments of prayers that I recalled from my schooldays.
I noticed a shadowy figure materialising in the corner of my hallway. He was using all his strength to defeat me. The huge knife in his hands glinted menacingly.
Throwing the contents of the bottle at the figure, I recalled a line from a play staged at Chris’ theatre once, and shouted, ‘You have no power. Be gone, back to Hell.’
A gust of wind nearly blew me off my feet, and the front door opened and slammed shut. I’ve never been sure if my words, or the forceful way they were delivered, did the trick, but Jack the Ripper and his poor, pathetic victims were gone. And my home was as clean as it had always been.
I thought again of Chris. He was the only person I knew who would believe me. I wanted – needed – him there. My hands still shaking, I found his details in my address book – I’d wondered at the time why I’d even bothered entering them - and dialled his number. As he answered, I broke down. What if he hung up?
‘Courtney? Is that you, babe?’
BIO: I'm married and live in Plymouth, England, where I work for the local theatre. Quite a few of my short stories, poems and articles have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and webzines, and have also been broadcast on the radio. I've had some competition success too.