Lost Souls

A Time and a Place

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A Time and a Place

by Anthony Ferguson

You smile as you hold the music box up for closer inspection. It is the one from the catalogue, of that you are certain. Dating back to the era you currently inhabit. Discovered in a condemned slum on the London docklands in 1986, the very dwelling in which you now stand, sold by Sothebys in 1989 for over a hundred thousand pounds. You place it on the table next to the brooch and several other items of interest. Another one safely crossed off your list.

These baubles, worth a mere pittance in the here and now will, unbeknownst to their owners, one day sell to a collector for an absolute fortune. What’s more, they will be sold on that far distant day by none other than yourself. You marvel inwardly at your own ingenuity, pausing only to remove some unwelcome dirt from the cuff of your smartly tailored suit. You are aware of your anomalous status in this East End slum dwelling in the London of the late nineteenth century. Yet as ever, there is method to your reasoning. This is merely another stopover on your voyage of discovery.

You cautiously remove the source of your power from the inner lining of your jacket and finger the device delicately, before placing it carefully on the table close to your swag. It is the key to your success, this shining little mechanism, for it allows you to travel through time and space undetected.

The methods by which you acquired this wondrous item are irrelevant, as is the fact that you killed to possess it. How was the old inventor to know he would stumble across such a magnificent gift after years of fruitless experiment? It was his misfortune that he happened to live next door to you, doubly so that he chose to share his secret with you. All that really matters now is that it is yours alone.

.How wise you were to apply its capacity to your trade as a dealer in antiques and artefacts, and oh what riches your inter-dimensional travels promise to bestow upon you. As a moon the colour of bone descends past the grimy window, you check your watch against the faithful chiming of the familiar monument in the distance and confirm it is four a.m. Soon it will be light and time to move on.

You were astute to read enough of the social history of Victorian London to note that the denizens of the East End were in the habit of leaving all their doors unlocked for easy access. After all, the poor have nothing of worth to protect.

You pick the music box up gently, turn its key and hold it to your ear. You are distracted trying to place the wistful tune in your memory, and fail to acknowledge the sound of a door latch turning softly behind you. A quiet footfall causes you to turn around and you are face to face with him.

The two of you stand motionless, eyeing one another warily as the lilting tune winds down. You are momentarily thrown off guard by the intrusion, but quickly compose yourself as you take in the image of this vagabond in all his shabby gentility.

He in turn breathes deeply as his dark eyes scan your strange clothing. Somehow you sense that he suspects your unnatural presence in this place, just as you begin to perceive his. It is then that you see it, the bloody knife protruding from the sleeve, held in a steely, purposeful grip. With sudden realization you are aware that you cannot know the face, but you do comprehend the name.

What a pity you hadn’t studied your history books a little more thoroughly. If so, you would appreciate the significance of this particular night at the end of August 1888. But there isn’t time for that now. You cast a furtive glance at the table just behind you where the device still lies. One click of a button and you are no longer here.

His eyes follow your every move and you are appalled by his uncanny stealth. Still you follow your instincts and chance your arm, turning and lunging for the timepiece. But he is much too quick for you. In an instant a gnarled hand covers your mouth from behind. The sanguine knife shimmers in the gaslight and your throat is slit from ear to ear.

You fall before him, undone by the meticulous nature of your own research. The age of gaslight will slowly draw to a close in the next few years, and Sir William Herschel’s science of fingerprinting will remain unappreciated by a capricious British government until the turn of the twentieth century. All these things previously worked in your favour, just as they now work in his.

You lie there looking up at him as the light slowly flickers out in your eyes. You linger long enough to see him pick the object up from the table and examine it, turning it over in his hands. He has no idea what it is or what it does, but he will learn. Yes, he will come to master your little device in time, and just like you, he will find it very, very useful indeed.

Copyright Anthony Ferguson 2008

Anthony Ferguson is an indentured slave of the Australian government whose work has previously appeared in Suspect Thoughts, Camp Horror, and Lost Souls. He holds a BA and a Masters degree in Literature and Australian History, which qualifies him to work in any Burger King across the globe. He cites his main influences as Charles Bukowski, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and the Twilight Zone.

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