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Cocking his arm back, newspaper in hand, Jules aimed high over the fence, and chucked the newspaper far into the yard. The fencing was completely covered in greenery, blinding Jules as to where the paper had landed. He smirked, happy with himself when suddenly, the clinking and scraping sounded again as the gates began shutting. Jules ditched the bike, running as fast as his legs would carry him, but he was too late as the wrought iron shut him in. For lack of a better word, he was trapped.

Frantically, he looked for a way out.  Just a few steps ahead he discovered a hole in the hedges to his right and quickly dove in, leaving his bike behind. Bad idea. The thick overgrowth was deeper than Jules had thought. Every step he took he was prodded and pricked with twigs and stickers, so much so that he sprinted as best he could toward the dim sunlight breaking through the leaves. Jules broke the brambles and vines with one last push and fell, coughing, sputtering and blind to the grass below. Jules landed, waiting for the painful smack of the pavement, but it never hit. Instead, he felt the lush, soft blades of grass massage him as his body landed in the greenest, most perfectly maintained lawn he had ever seen.

Jules recovered for a moment, drinking in the still, opulent garden. Regaining his sight, he lifted his head and down the way spotted a lower point in the foliage covered fence.  Deciding that to climb up and over this would be his best escape route, he jumped to his sore feet, ready to run, when an enormous hand grasped his shoulder. Jules jumped, jerked out of his escape by a large, mannish woman wearing a white apron. Jules’ fear faded. Looking into the jowled face, the bulging eyes and huge, pock-marked skin, Jules wondered as she grunted to him, beads of sweat on her fuzzy brow, if this was a woman or a bulldog. She had to be over six feet tall, round and bulky, especially in the shoulders. A linebacker would have problems tackling such a beast.

“Uw vihl kom vit mi!” He tried to jerk himself free of the hand, but the bulldog of a woman held fast. Bending down, she hoisted Jules up under her arm and carried him toward the house. Jules pounded on her, livid and terrified as she carried him deeper and deeper into Tarantella’s trap. Waves of nausea began to hit Jules, she smelled like rotten onions and feet, the kind of stagnate rank Jules had only ever experienced when pinned amongst the press line workers at the London Fog. Jules gagged, his thrashing subsiding as her tight hold suffocated him, and gave up the fight, trying his best not to vomit.

She ignored his rasps, carrying Jules deeper into the garden. Jules succumbed to the massive crushing weight of her arms, his heart fluttering, silently screaming as the images of Tarantella sparked in his mind. Jules could not comprehend what it would be like to be cannibalized by such a monster, the thousand nightmarish tales of her that he was once so fascinated by haunted him, only now he saw himself as the star of these tales, each one more horrific than the last. Ahead, bulldog woman took him through a small, intricate wrought iron gate. A puzzle-like maze of swirling metal covered in ivory baby’s breath, sweet potato vine and forsythia. Almost faerie-like, the gate itself was dark wrought iron, black, twisted and slightly bent in the middle. The iron bent and dipped and swirled on the sides, creating two great metal webs on either side of the gate itself.

Passing through, Jules entered an Eden.  The woman unloaded Jules onto the grass below, still firmly holding to his shoulder.  The area was a square, the brilliant white house to the right, and to the left, an eruption of flora. White, Pink and Red roses erupted from every inch of the garden. Thick, perfectly green grass lay firm and soft beneath his feet. The sunlight shone directly overhead, bathing the garden in luminescent brilliance. Jules found it odd that the Tarantella would kill him in such a beautiful place. Directly ahead, in the center of the garden, positioned perfectly under an expansive, erupting weeping willow was a pearl. Or at least it looked like a pearl from the distance. As Jules squinted his eyes from the sun, he could see that in truth, it was a white café table. With high-backed bistro chairs and a white, harlequin umbrella.

It was set for the afternoon tea.

Jules’ heart shuddered, sitting at the table, dressed head to toe in white, a veil hanging from her hat covering the face beneath, was Lady Tarantella. Jules froze, terror coursing through him like nothing he had ever felt before. His heart was about to explode, the beating pounding in his ears as he stared at Tarantella. He had to leave, he had to get out, a thousand emotions boiled inside of him, ready to burst. He screamed. Wrenching and thrashing, trying to get away from the woman, he beat on her with both fists, but his twelve-year-old fervor had no effect. The beastly maid drug him down the lawn, closer and closer to the woman. He saw the curling iron of the table leg, underneath which was the blackened, scarred, thin leg of Tarantella. It was vein-ridden and crooked, with a horrid tiny foot attached to the end. Enormous dents riveted it, as though something had scooped her flesh right out of her skin. Jules closed his eyes tight, halfway between defiance and tears as the woman dropped him. Lifting him up off of the ground, she plopped him straight into one of the chairs and released him, still standing close. Jules’ heart continued to thud. It was all over, but he did not have to look. He shook in the chair, the warm breeze of the day torturing him as he felt the icy stare of Tarantella piercing him.

“You know it is rude not to look at your host.” The voice was cool and smooth, like satin, a horrific reminder of the night before when the very same had all but cursed the people of London who gathered at her doors. Jules whimpered at the voice, trembling violently as he held fast to the chair, his only vice.

“You have a very good arm Jules.” The words dropped a stone in Jules’ gut, he had hit her with the newspaper. His stomach churned, shaking uncontrollably, eyes glued shut as Tarantella’s hands gravitated towards the veil, Jules wrenched away once more purely out of desperation. The enormous woman seized his arm, holding him in place as Tarantella’s gloved hand lifted the veil. Jules shook, eyes tight, unable to speak. The maid’s thick, bulbous hand whacked Jules’ in the back, forcing his eyes open…

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Jules woke up the next morning in a haze. The night before replayed in his dreams on a never ending loop, it was only the streaking, dust filled morning light that finally broke his dark nightmares of Tarantella, waking him up to the wooden halls of Burnbridge orphanage. Jules jumped out of bed, not making eye contact or speaking with anyone as he threw on his clothes and ran down the steps to the front door, his bike perched outside, waiting for him. Jules was skipping breakfast, he did not feel like talking to anyone for any reason. Hand on the doorknob, turning the tarnished brass, Jules suddenly stopped as the muffled voice of the Kulch caught his ear. Jules followed the sound and traced it to the library, opposite him across the foyer, echoing from behind the tall double doors. Jules searched the foyer and the stairs for anyone who might catch him, but no one was there.

Inching towards the doors, he could hear her voice, even from across the long foyer, as she spoke, addressing someone intensely. Ahead, a door was ajar, cracked just enough for the sunlight pouring in through the windows in the library to shine into the foyer and across the floor. Jules dared not approach the door anymore, for fear she would catch him, but he could hear her voice clearly, standing mid-step, still and silent as her voice carried through the crack.

Click the door to listen...

Jules about-faced and dashed towards the door, refusing to look back as he tore the door open, ran down the steps and jumped onto his bike, peddling down the road, putting as much ground between he and the orphanage as possible.

Jules peddled furiously, not waxing meditatively as he usually did, only wishing to get to London as fast as possible, hoping the bustle of the city would distract him, his mind racing. Images flashed before him, spiders perched on men’s necks, the little white spider eating a lock of his hair, the protestor falling to the ground in a fit, the sight of Bruno’s face as he looked on at Tarantella…Jules shook them off as best he could, but the more he tried to forget, the more they stuck in his mind. The Kulch’s phone conversation playing like a broken record, drowning out the rush of the wind and the sound of the road beneath him as the city, rose into view from the horizon.

He wasted no time, Jules zig-zagged through the streets, dodging traffic and pedestrians alike, his feet in a constant flurry all the way to the London Fog press. The glass factory shone bright in the daylight, the sun above reflecting onto the buildings surrounding the press. It was like a glowing gem had been dropped smack in the middle of London, the whirring of the iron presses making the street tremble as he pulled into the factory entrance. Just as he did the day before, Jules shot straight to the middle of the factory, fighting his way through a forest of iron monsters, each one spitting out papers faster than he could count. Long rays of yellow sun cascaded through the seamless, glass wall illuminating the thick cloud of swirling dust that hung above the press floor.  The only still air in the vast expanse of a room was over the ever growing stack of rolled papers, counting out forty-one, one for each delivery he made, Jules, for only the second time in his life, read the headline.

PLAGUE IN LONDON!: LOOMING PANDEMIC PSYCHOLOGICAL OR

SUPERNATURAL? CHURCH AND MINISTRY OF DEFENSE COOPERATE!

Jules unfolded the paper and underneath the headline crease was a picture of Starch and Depardieu standing side by side. Jules recognized the photo, it had been taken at the press conference the day before on the steps of St. Paul’s. Jules scanned the article, words like “pandemic”, “poisoning”, “children”, “exorcism”, “death”,  leapt off the page, grabbing him. Completely enveloped, Jules scanned on, “Tarantella”, “monster”, “possessed”,  “destroy”…

“JULES!” He jumped, pulled out of the article as a gruff, garbled voice bellowed his name over the machines. Jules turned and on the other side of the stack of rolled papers stood a stocky, stout man with a bright red mustache and a cigar hanging from his mouth, a cloud of smoking hanging about his person. Mr. Ragland was the route manager, he controlled orders and shipments, including where they went and who got what. Jules could only think of one instance when the man had called him over before, and that was some years ago when Jules had first begun his route. Jules hurriedly dodged the bustling workmen and found his way to Mr. Ragland, who looked on him with a slight smirk, impatience written across his face.

“Finally! One more second and I was going to toss it at your head!” The manager took his cigar from his lips and blew a cloud of pungent, earthy vapor into Jules face. He turned to a tiny, rusted metal desk behind him on which sat a bundle of twine wrapped papers, all with identical white notes attached to them. Mr. Ragland ran his finger along the papers, searching for a specific paper, when his fingers stopped at the one second to the last and pulled it out of the stack.

“You’ve got a new delivery. It’s in the outskirts, not far from Burnbridge, deliver it today on your way out of the city. Got it?” He replaced his cigar.

Jules nodded at the man, taking the paper, throwing it into his satchel and running out of the factory and into the blazing sun that radiated over London. He blazed through his route in record time, pitching papers right and left, not even slowing down to toss them as he passed the houses. Jules’ head was anywhere but in his route, a thousand thoughts clouding his mind as he rode on through the city. The streets felt different to Jules, the normal hustle and bustle of the Londoners continued on as ever, but there was something missing in their steps. A schism, deep within the people of London, had opened up, the stale stench of fear hanging about the soot-filled air. Even in the glorious daylight of the afternoon, the city felt timid, people kept to themselves, their heads stayed down except to fearfully check over their shoulders, as though they were being followed.

Every hiccup or cough instigated the stares of a crowd, their eyes riveted with fear for what the ailment meant for them. Would it spread? Would they too fall ill? Would they be Tarantella’s next? Jules knew their thoughts, because he himself was thinking the exact same thing. Never before in his life had he been afraid of something he could not see, but as the word of the ailment afflicting London gained ground, even Jules felt the sting of fear that plagued the city.

The sun still shone high in the sky, burning hot as he broke the top of a hill. Holding the last newspaper in hand, Jules read the tiny note Mr. Ragland had attached. It said, simply, “13 Cherry Tree Ln”. Jules pondered the address, the name sounded hauntingly familiar, though try as he did, he could not place it. He peddled on, searching the cross streets for signs, but sign post after sign post yielded no luck. What seemed like hours later, his shirt stained from the sweat of his ride, Jules came to a fork in the road. The black, paved road to the left led back to London, but to the right was a white, stone drive. Defeated and thoroughly done with this delivery, Jules looked up to the sign post, “CHERRY TREE LANE”. His stomach jumped, he had finally made it. Then, peering up the white stone drive, Jules heart stopped beating, the enormous ivory palisade of Cherry Tree Manor crowning the grassy knoll just beyond. He could not believe what he had to do, just the night before, he had ventured up to the home of Lady Tarantella, only to barely escape with his life. Now, the spider woman, the whore of London, was his newest customer. Mounting his bike precariously, Jules forged forward up the steep, grassy knoll.

His eyes never left the spectacle of the mansion, drinking it in as the sun bathed it in light. The entire house was brilliant white, with rows upon columns upon rows of sparkling windows jetting out in every direction.  Winding, dark green vine covered the bottom of the home, fading into the lush gardens that surrounded the house. Jules had heard of places like Shangri-La and Eden, but had to imagine that even they paled in comparison to Tarantella’s house. Flowers and plants of every color, shape and size overran the enormous fence which surrounded the estate. Even the long, stone driveway was a thing of beauty, cutting into the side of the hill on which the house was perched, like a giant white snake crawling over a mountain.

Jules reached the driveway entrance, and stood in awe as the night before ran over and over again in his head. He studied the front gates and the driveway beyond, but no matter where looked, no sign of the night’s mob had been left. Jules searched the house, and sure enough, the broken third floor window had been fixed. It was as though no one had been there at all. Suddenly, a clink of metal jarred him from his gaze, followed by the grinding and scraping of the gates swinging wide, beckoning him to the house. Jules looked around for the gatekeeper, but no one was there. Curiosity got hold of him and he irked forward, anxiously peddling his bike up to the inner fences that ran along the sides of the drive. Stopping next to the fence, Jules got an idea…

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***WARNING: THIS INSTALLMENT CONTAINS THEMATIC ELEMENTS THAT MAY BE UPSETTING. ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WITH ARACHNOPHOBIA. PLEASE USE DISCRETION BEFORE CONTINUING***

Jules smiled and nodded as he jumped on his bike and tore towards the London Fog, waving back at Editor Jacobs, returning the gesture as he shuffled into a taxi. Jules peddled through the rain soaked streets and arrived at the London Fog a mere thirty minutes late. The London Fog printing press stood high over Jules. It was a curving, glass palace, sitting on a corner in downtown London. Hundreds of lines of twisted, crossing, tarnished green copper held the hundreds of panes together. The rain flowed over the glass in sheets, rippling the shadows of the behemoth printing machines beyond the glass, their whirring and churning vibrated the stone beneath Jules as he walked his bike into the warehouse entrance. Not stopping to talk to anyone, mostly to avoid retribution for being late, he dashed in and out of the maze of machines, arriving at the stacks of rolled newspapers in the middle of the room. He shoved his pack full of newspapers and was gone onto his route again before anyone seemed to notice he was there.

The day rose and fell quickly, his routes taking more time than ever now that, due to the rain soaking the paths and stoops of his stops, Jules had to hand deliver each newspaper, and with each delivery came another reaction to the glaring headline Jules had seen that morning. Some were reserved,

“Well, I can’t say I haven’t seen this one coming. That Depardieu is quite a man, what a beacon he is, the world needs more like him!”

Some were shocked,

“Tarantella is charged with murder?! Can you believe it?! My goodness, I never thought I’d see the day! Not even in office yet and Mr. Starch is already saving the world!”

Some were just cruel,

“ ‘Bout bloody time they locked up that bitch. She’s terrorized this city ‘nough, all those poor children, I say to hell with her!”

Finally, delivering his last paper to an odd old man named Mr. Spug, who came to the door with nothing on but a set of boxers and a naval officer’s hat. He informed Jules that the French were invading and that the tea stores were in danger. Jules promised to pass along the message, getting on his bike and riding away from the cozy, brick house off into the twilight. The dark streets of London were eerily still, a silently unnerving contrast to the bustle of the day before. The last rays of sunlight left the sky, dipping the city into darkness, Jules’ path lit only by the street lamps as he peddled tiredly back to Burnbridge Orphanage. Climbing the one last hill that led out of the city, Jules heard the low roar of a car behind him. He figured that he had time enough to crest the hill before needing to get over, but the car sped towards, faster and faster each second. The headlamps threw their light beyond him, and as he looked over his shoulder, the broad grill of a dark automobile filled his vision. A piercing horn honk rang through his ears, his eyes blinded by the lights. He feet faltered and, heart racing, he flung himself onto the side of the street as the car tore past him, the gyrating wheels missing his toes by mere inches. Men hung out of the windows of the car, screaming and hollering at the top of their lungs, beer bottles swinging through the air as they chanted “Kill the whore of LONDON!”, the car bounding over the hill and off into the night.

Jules jumped to his feet and watched as the car zoomed off into the country towards the amber windows of Cherry Tree Manor. The headline jumped into his head once more, the damning words of Depardieu playing over and over again.

They’re going after Tarantella

Jules hoisted himself onto his bike and peddled faster than he had peddled before, racing through the dark, moonless night towards the shadowed, white block atop Cherry Tree Hill. The winding country road cut through the grassy country like a dark river, his vision just able to make out the path a few feet in front of him. Each push of the peddle brought the mansion closer, a faint, garbled noise echoing down through the countryside. The closer he got, the louder the noise became, when, upon scaling the long, paved drive of Cherry Tree Hill, a mob of angry, violent demonstrators, illuminated by the headlamps of their cars, undulated and thrashed against the dark, swirling gates of Chery Tree Manor.

Jules stopped just short of the crowd, not daring to imbue himself in the madness. Instead, he found a hole in the shrubs next to him and darted between them, pulling himself and his bike into a tiny alcove of grass, hidden from the mob, but the mansion positioned perfectly in front of him. Next to him, on the other side of the tall shrubs, the mob grew angrier and more agitated with each second that passed. From the back, a stocky, staggering man arched his arm and flung a flaming bottle high into the air.

Jules watched as it fell and exploded in a ball of fire on the driveway just beyond the gate, the mob staggering back as the oppressive heat singed the iron bars of the gate. The crowd may have staggered back at the explosion, but their fury burned even hotter now, fueled by the flames of the bomb, pressing and rattling the gates. Some brought out bats, others simply threw empty bottles, and all the while Scotland Yard feigned an apathetic resolve to control the mob, most of the officers even supplied the mob with their own clubs while they watched in silence, reveling in the condoned mayhem befalling the beautiful Cherry Tree Manor.

Though hidden, Jules kept his head low as the mob grew ever more violent, fearing he soon would become the unintended target for another flaming bottle. Looking to the house, Jules waited, for something, anything to happen, to stop the mob, to spring forth from the front door. The gates were strong, never faltering under the weight of the commanding throng, still, Jules feared that soon the gates would fly open and the mob would crash in, pulling the monstrous Tarantella out of her house and into the London night for the world to see. Yet, the gates stayed shut. Furthering no ground, and the night waxing on, the mob exploded into jeers of swears and curses, flailing every name and slur thinkable towards the peaceful mansion.

Jules egged closer, now looking through the iron bars of the fence, still hidden by the hedges, invisible to everyone, but able to see everything. The crowd never relented, it was amazing to Jules how stupid people became when put into groups, as though they were no longer thinking, like their words meant nothing to them. Suddenly, Jules was torn from his thought as out of the corner of his eyes, a man flashed the metallic barrel of a shotgun high over his head. The police finally jumped to action, bolting towards the hysterical man, but they were too late, as the man cocked the gun, pointed it at the mansion and with a resounding holler, fired.

The blast rang through Jules ears, covering them instinctively as he looked to the mansion, his heart beating through his chest. The entire crowd shrieked and ducked in recoil, shocked out of their hysteria as a window in the third floor of the manor exploded, showering the gardens below with glass. Jules watched as the police pushed and shoved their way through the thicket of people, just feet away from the drunken man, whose hands already fumbled loading the second shot, when, bounding out of the bushes just inches from him, came another man, slamming into the gates on the driveway. Hand over foot, he climbed the gates, the crowd jeering and cheering once more. He was just feet away from the top of the swirling crest of the gate, when Jules, and it seemed the rest of the mob, spotted it. On the man’s back crawled something, black and round, the size of a small plate.

Jules squinted to make out the furry blur illuminated by the headlamps, and could see the eight long, jagged legs and the pointed, jerking fangs. Jules’ heart stopped. The man kept climbing, completely unaware as a woman from the throngs let out an ear-piercing shriek. He turned his head back to the crowd, full of himself, a beer bottle in hand swinging free when, suddenly, the man stopped moving. Jules saw as his face dropped, expressionless and, without warning, his eyes rolled back in his head as he lost his grip and fell to the concrete below.

No one moved to help the man, they stood silent, staring down at his body as he twitched and shook. Jules’ eyes searched the bushes for a way out without anyone seeing him, but everywhere he looked, people surrounded the exits. Heart beating through his head, Jules resolved just to run for it when an ear splitting scream tore open his head. Jules popped his head over the bushes and saw a woman shaking and jumping around, brushing herself violently, crying in terror. Then, another, a man this time, let out a low, fear-stricken yelp as he flung his arms around him to his back, trying to brush something off unseen to Jules. Soon, one after another, the entirety of the once violent mob screamed and jumped, crying as they swiped and beat their clothes, some even taking them off, shaking their hair and stomping their feet in horror. Jules breath grew short, a weight settling on his chest of panic, he had to get out…he had to get out…

“NO ONE MOVE.”

A silken voice from nowhere bounded and echoed across the countryside, audible to even the shaking and panicking crowd. The voice was without a body, delicate and powerful, like a spear made of glass, simultaneously beautiful and dangerous. It spoke again, louder this time…

“SILENCE! DO-NOT-MOVE.” The mob instantly obeyed, but they stood shaking, most uttered stifled sobs, wanting to cry out in terror but too afraid to move at the command of the body-less voice. Jules, terrified and unmoving himself, looked to the crowd again, and now that they stood still, he could see the source of their terror, igniting a fear deep in Jules, quaking in his stance, as crawling up the backs of every single person was a spider. The smallest was the size of a tea cup, the largest, a dinner plate. Some were hairy, others were slick and gleamed in the headlamps, still others had bulging, fat bodies, while some had pincers larger than their heads. Jules felt nothing on him, but he stood shaking, too afraid for what he might see if her were to look behind him.

Jules eyes searched for something, anything to give him comfort. Turning his sight to the mansion, he saw something. Standing far and high above them on the stoop to the palatial house was a sentry in white, its face covered by a white veil, standing tall and gazing down on them, lit dimly by the lights of the garden. Jules squinted, examining the figure as it pulled up its hand. Jules heart skipped a beat as from out of the shadows came a round, black, hand-like limb with a black, twisted cane in its grasp. Standing high above them, her face-less stare boring into their hearts, was Lady Tarantella. Her silken voice spoke again….

“The spiders crawling on you are the most dangerous of my collection. Spiders, you see, are sensitive to movement, sound…even the beat of a racing heart.” A woman let out a garbled scream, catching herself as she heaved sobs into the night. “One move, and you will be unconscious before you hit the ground.”

The mass did not move, except to quake silently as the spiders crawled and shifted on their backs. Jules watched as they move into the people’s hair and down their legs, some even hissed as they stood in waiting for any sign of vulnerability out of their victim. She spoke again…

“Now, who is in charge of this raucous? STEP FORWARD. NOW.”

The people jumped at her command, and from out of the crowd, a single, tall, police officer emerged, staggering forward slowly, a single tear running from his eye as he stopped in the spotlight of the headlamps. On his neck was perched a black abomination. Its body a shell of hard, shiny quartz, with eight bended, crooked legs, and a set of dripping fangs. Its underbody was a vibrant red which faded into black as its limbs went on. Jules had never seen anything so ugly, or terrifying before in his life, shaking as Tarantella’s voice bounded once again.

“Why are you here…”

The officer yelped a mangled cry as he opened his mouth to speak, finally, breathing deep heaves, he spoke. “We….WE HAVE A WARRANT…”

“A warrant. I see.  No doubt for my arrest, is it not?”

The officer did not respond, he just let out a pitiful sob as the fangs tickled the veins in his neck, dripping milky, thick liquid onto the man’s quivering muscles.

“And do you know what I have sir? It’s actually nibbling your neck now, even as we speak. That is a fine specimen that has chosen you sir. The most dangerous spider in my collection…the Brazilian Wandering Spider.” She said sweetly as the man whimpered in fear.

“It is arguably the most venomous spider on Earth, and yet there it is, greeting you ever so kindly.”

The officer was frozen, as was the crowd, no one moaned or cried anymore, their silence hanging onto the every word of the Lady.

“Do you have this warrant my good officer?” He closed his eyes, and reached into his pocket, just barely pulling out a piece of paper, his eyes closed as the spider remained vigilant at his jugular.

“Oh very good. Now, would be so kind as to put it into the pocket of the unconscious man who tried to climb my gate…do not worry about the spider, as long as you move slowly, you will remain alive.”

The officer let out a cry as he bent down, shuffling towards the lifeless man, warrant in hand. After what seemed like a century of fluttering heartbeats, he reached the body and carefully pushed the paper into the man’s shirt pocket.

“Good. Now I am assuming I have a court date? “

The officer, reduced now to a blubbering mess, just nodded his head.

“When was that? I am sorry, but I cannot hear your head nod.”

He mumbled something mid-way through a sob.

“What was that?”

The man shook, quivering violently as he screamed, “TOMORROW!” He melted into a sobbing fit.

“Splendid. Thank you, good officer, you have been most helpful. Now…you, and everyone with you who has disturbed my peaceful home, and my children, leave. Leave, and do not EVER disturb me again.” The spiders leapt from the backs of the blubbering crowd and scurried into the night as the masses turned in hysterical terror, forgetting their liquor and their clubs and bats, they piled into the cars, tearing through the grass as the engines took them into the night, away from the mansion and away from Lady Tarantella. One, sole person stood at the gates to the mansion. The crowd hid him before, but now, standing alone in the night, was Bruno Starch, fear struck.

Jules inched forward, but his foot crushed a twig in the bush, sending an echoing crack out into the air. Bruno’s head snapped over to him, his eyes wide and trembling, mouth gaping, beads of sweat dotting his head. He and Jules stared into one another, Jules had never seen Bruno in a such a state before, he was scared, completely and totally. Bruno shook his head at Jules, his gaze returning to the manor as he ran away, his feet carrying him into the dark of night. Jules stood slowly, his legs wobbling. He looked from where Bruno had stood back up to the mansion and, standing there still, was Lady Tarantella, only now, she stood facing Jules.

His heart pounced into his throat, he grabbed his bike, feet ready to dash, but as he did, he felt something crawl up his back, and he froze. Jules shook as a brilliant, furry, white spider, glowing in the night, appeared on his shoulder. The Lady did not move, nor did she speak, her gaze fixed on him. The spider crawled softly into his hair, lifting up the tussled strands of his brown locks as its feet pattered on his head. Then a sharp pain shot through Jules, and he batted his head, flinging the spider off as he fell to the ground, gripping his scalp, pulse racing, terrified it had bitten him.

Yet, as he examined his head, he felt nothing. No bump, no more mark, even the pain had subsided. Looking down to the spider, Jules saw, tucked between its pincers, was a thick lock of brown hair. The spider shoved the locks into its mouth and gently crawled underneath the shrubs in front of him back towards the mansion. Jules glared at Tarantella, a mix of fear and wonder rattling him as he mounted his bike and peddled away from Cherry Tree Manor.

The whole ride his heart pounded, yet he did not stop as he barreled through the dark countryside. After what seemed like hours in the dark, moon less abyss, he reached Burnbridge Orphanage. Throwing his bike to the ground, he darted for the doors and, flinging them open, he entered the dank, decrepit institution, slamming the oak slabs shut behind him. The house was empty and dark, and fearing to be in the night one second more, he ran up the winding steps and into the boy’s dormitory once again. He didn’t bother to change his clothes or wash his face, he just crawled under the stained sheets and laid, shaking, in his bed. A light poured into the dark from the hall above. Gazing up, a tiny, petite figure skipped out of the bathroom and towards his bed. Sam stopped when she saw Jules, her face bright and happy.

“Jules! I’ve been terribly bored all day, where have you been?!”

Jules shook his head and managed a weak smile as he looked up to her sweet, innocent, curious face.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

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* Coming August 11th

A week passed since Jules first heard of Lady Tarantella’s abduction of the Rosamund girl, but the issue, if at all possible, was even hotter than ever. Orders for newspapers jumped twenty-percent; Mr. Jacobs grew more and more elated each day as the tale of the Tarantella’s impending downfall took ever more damning turns. Jules was riding now to houses and parts of London he had never seen before, much less delivered to. He woke up earlier than ever this particular morning, shoveling down his goopy porridge with Sam, making her giggle and laugh as he feigned gagging fits with each slurp of the lumpy goop, pretending to vomit on the sweaty old cook as she passed. Dumping his leftovers into the bowl of the boy next to him while he wasn’t watching, Jules flipped on his cap, jumped on his bike, and began his long trek into London, the sun just barely cresting the hills as his bike barreled down the lane.

The ride was supposed to feel long, but today something was different, even the air blew past his head oddly, as though the winds had changed and a storm was on its way. Jules entertained the thought, but as he looked into the horizon on either side of him, nothing but blue sky and morning sun surrounding him. So he shrugged it off and continued to coast down a shallow hill, putting his feet on the handle bars, trying to keep his balance amidst the stones and pebbles. He loved this. The freedom he had, even only for the time it took him to reach the printing press, was like heaven. No rules, no school, no Kulch, just the road and the ability to do whatever he wished, even if only for a moment.

Jules looked up from the road that streaked below him and saw the misty skyline of London emerging from the knolls of the countryside. Jules much preferred the city, its constant life, the bustling and hustling of Londoners, the sounds of car horns and store bells ringing through the dense atmosphere of burning asphalt and petrol that hung in the air. It was a world within a world, with a heart that beat in its own time. Passing from the land of the country to rumbling roads of the city, Jules wove in and out of traffic, dodging cars and trucks, followed by a symphony of angry honks as they swerved and pitched trying to miss the bike. The sunshine above faded behind gray, rolling clouds. A shiver went down Jules’ back as the temperature dropped, the sugary smell of coming rain filling the air. Jules had absolutely no desire to get caught in the rain, so he peddled as fast as he could, the bike groaning and rattling under the pressure as he tore even faster than before through the morning traffic. There was a flash and looking to the sky, a single, brilliant vein of lightning shot across the gray cumulus blanket, cracking like a cosmic whip. Jules quickly swerved onto the sidewalk, pedaling against the flows of people pushing and fumbling to get out of the way of the coming storm.

The lightning cracked again, lighting up the London sky in a cerulean flash. It caught him off guard and he jumped, pulling the brakes to stop the bike from skidding out from underneath him. He was at a corner and just beyond him sat St. Paul’s cathedral, its spire seeming to disappear into the clouds above. A sea of umbrella wielding, shivering, cloaked reporters waited just below the steps of the church, the stone saints gazing down on them as they fiddled with their cameras and flipped absentmindedly through their notebooks. Jules had no idea why they were out there, but standing amongst the crowd, Jules could see the head of editor Jacobs. If the editor had deemed whatever was going on important enough to be there in person, then whatever was happening had to be big.

Inching the bike onto the road, Jules spotted a London Fog placard, a locked box that held the front page of the daily news, fixated onto an iron lamppost just on the other side of the street. It was turned away from him, but as Jules slowly approached the box, bike in his grip, the emboldened letters of the headline burned into his mind:

The rain came in a sudden sheet of plunging droplets, soaking anything in its falling path, but Jules took no notice, he stared on at the paper, reading even the smallest caption of the damning article.  His growing fascination with the spider woman had begun to surprise even him, but Jules was exquisitely perceptible, and there was something, elusive, strange, about Tarantella that drew him in. A rustle came from the sea of reporters and Jules tore his eyes from the headline box only to see the reporters charging up the steps of St. Paul’s. Apparently manners and courtesy were not traits common among reporters, Jules didn’t blame them, he was never one for manners himself, but neither did he condone acting like rats running off a sinking ship. Something stirred them, and Jules quickly found out what, for out of the Olympian pillars of St. Paul’s strode the Prime Minister elect Simeon Starch. Dressed to the nines, confident, but somehow far less cheerful than normal, Mr. Starch’s demeanor was not cocky, there was indeed a streak of humility in Mr. Starch, particularly in comparison to the elitist nature of the political system, a system he stuck out like a sore thumb in, albeit a loved and golden sore thumb. He had an air of kindness to him, unwilling to hurt a fly but could stop a giant with a shoelace if needed.

Mr. Starch stopped, and peering out over the crowd, his hands motioned for silence. Staring into their flashbulbs, he faced them, fearless but shaken. Jules even faltered on his bike as he saw the apprehension on Mr. Starch’s face. Something, something horrible, plagued Mr. Starch, a sea of guilt washing over his normally brilliant eyes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid the news, both the good, and the bad, is true. For those of you who do not know, the body of an adolescent girl was found yesterday floating down the Thames near the shipping yards. Former Surgeon General Dr. Malachi Lazareth, an eye-witness to the abduction of Lacey Rosamund, confirmed the identification this afternoon and not minutes ago concluded the autopsy results.” He stopped, swallowing hard. Then he did something Jules was all too familiar with. Jules knew it from the people who he would go to collect the paper money from, only for them to tell him they would pay him later, and time after time, they would all do the same thing. Looking closer, his mouth gaping open in shock, Jules saw as Mr. Starch’s eyes shifted to the left. Not at all a subtle movement, it was almost as though he was taking cues from someone. Jules, though, knew what he was really doing. Mr. Starch was inexplicably, irrefutably, lying.

“The body was that of Lacey Rosamund.” The crowd’s silence broke as a wave of shocked whispers pulsated through the crowd, scribbling on their notepads, the air thickening from the tension as the rain continued to pour. Out of nowhere, a man appeared from behind Mr. Starch. He was short and bald with three thin, gray bunches of hair combed across his head. Dressed head to toe in a foot-length black robe with a long rosary draped around his neck, he peered out over the crowd through his wrinkled, thin eyes, smiling, but obviously not meaning it.

Francois Depardieu, the Archbishop of London, a man few knew anything about, and yet, did not care. Jules was not much for history, but twenty or so years ago, according to a framed copy of the London Fog hanging in the publishing office, the former Archbishop of London died after a tragic accident while visiting the Archbishop of Ballarat, he was, as the paper reported, bitten by a rattle snake and died in Sydney just hours later. The next day a man, unknown to the people of London or the rest of the diocese, was appointed Archbishop of London by the Pope himself, a controversial and unheard of move from the papal seat. The man was the pale, shadowed Depardieu. He stood next to Officer Starch, proper, cordial, but painfully keen. He watched and listened to Starch’s every word as he spoke.

“People of London, while I am not acting yet as the Prime Minister, I can assure you that I will take every step and precaution necessary, regardless of consequence, to insure that the person who is truly behind these attacks is revealed…and destroyed.”

The crowd exploded into a frenzy, reporters vied and pushed for something, anything, they could get an exclusive on. A man from the back managed to shout above the deafening sea of reporters, aggressively hurling his question at Mr. Starch.

“What was the cause of death?”

Starch answered quickly and emotionless, “The coroner determined that Lacey Rosamund died of heart failure due to the advanced stress her fits put on her body.”

A long faced, pointy-nosed woman thrust her camera into his face, taking a picture and shouting a question at him “What and why has the church been involved? The people are crying out that this is a matter of the state, not the Church of England?”

He spoke to answer, but another came hurling towards him. “Is there any truth to the reports that you were at the scene of the abduction?”

And another, “ARE YOU AND THE ARCHBISHOP CONSPIRING AGAINST THE CROWN?”

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN PLEASE!” Depardieu stepped forward, holding up his hands to quiet the blood-thirsty reporters. “Officer Starch is greatly fatigued from his previous…endeavours. I will answer your questions now.” He proclaimed to the crowd, eyes shifting quickly from person to person, interrogating each one with his gaze. “The Church of England’s involvement with these disappearances is paramount. Officer Starch, in his fatigue, failed to address the crucial and terrifying fact that each of these children, all six of the abductees, while different in their own cases and ways, each share a common conditional thread…they are all suspected victims of possession.” The reporters fired up again, but before they could overwhelm him, Depardieu motioned quickly and swiftly for their silence, smiling all the while that he did. “I know you have many questions, but none more than the church itself has. I have been in contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury and have sent correspondence to the Pope himself. While we remain…faithful…at this time, we cannot and will not rule out the possibility of a spiritual epidemic. Lacey Rosamund was only one of many cases of fits and mania that have swept the city, concentrated exclusively to children. The Church is, of course, completely supportive of the sciences and therefore enlisted the help of the former Surgeon General Dr. Malachi Lazareth to assist us in these cases, but his research, unfortunately, has proven fruitless, and therefore, the only logical step, at this point, is to consider the possibility of a spiritual, not biological, crisis.”

“WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO CLAIM YOU ARE CREATING THIS EPIDEMIC AS A COVER FOR YOUR CONSPIRACY TO OVERTHROW THE CROWN?”

“Those who claim such lies are an enemy of not only the Church of England but of the newly elected Prime Minister and the Crown itself. Unfortunately, we live in a world where lies and slander are the vernacular, and truth and wisdom the obscure. My only concern is for this country, and the children who will one day inherit it. Whether biological, or spiritual, we, the state and the Church of England, must work together to bring this epidemic to its knees before more widespread…contamination….occurs.  We owe it our children.”

The Archbishop smiled warmly, intoxicating the gathered crowd surrounding him. Jules, though, was anything but intoxicated by the Archbishop as a damning chill ran down his spine, the Archbishop’s dark eyes meeting his for a second then scanning the crowd again as he turned to leave the happy reporters.

“WHAT OF TARANTELLA?” A man yelled from somewhere deep inside the crowd, the- low-rolling dirge of thunder punctuating his question. Officer Starch awakened, his eyes flinching at the question. The giddily agreeing reporters and praise throwing-onlookers diverted their adoration from Depardieu, who turned slowly back to the reporters, smiling as a glimmer ignited in eye. Jules knew the voice as from out of the crowd emerged editor Jacobs, his long, brown trench coat soaked at the bottom from the puddles gathering in the cobblestone street. No one spoke, the whispers and scribbling pads silenced. Even the saints looking down from St. Paul’s waited for the answer. Depardieu met the sea of interrogating glares with absolution, his fervor pulsating through the crowd. Jules could feel the excited coldness emanating from him, as though Depardieu had been waiting for this all along.

“Tarantella…” He said stone-faced, just loud enough for everyone to hear, milking the quiet “…is an anathema, a source of fear for the city of London for the last time. She is and always has been the suspected source of the ailment that has befallen the children of this city. She is an enemy of the Church, a scientific monster seeking to destroy everything we hold dear. I must admit our failure…” Depardieu put his hand to his heart, a veil of grief covering him as he grew ever more zealous. “…the reports are true that some seven nights ago Dr. Lazareth and Simeon, serving his last night as head of Scotland Yard, arrived at the disgraced Rosamund’s residence to apprehend and contain the afflicted child.

The move, ordered in an unprecedented cooperation from the Church of England and Scotland Yard, was thwarted by none other than Lady Tarantella, who did willfully and knowingly kidnap and abduct Lacey Rosamund. In her interference, Lady Tarantella committed an act of sedition against the Crown and the Church of England. Therefore, today, I and Prime Minister Starch, issue a warrant for the capture and arrest of the veiled nuisance known as Lady Tarantella. Tonight, a public gathering will take place at the gates of Cherry Tree Manor, where the people of London will witness the end of Lady Tarantella’s reign of terror on this city.”

Depardieu turned and ascended the steps into St. Paul’s, waving cordially as he disappeared through the wooden doors. Starch stole away to a black motorcar, pushing his way through the throngs of reporters and adoring onlookers that had slowly accumulated over the conference. He attempted a smile as he got into the car and slammed the door shut, the black car speeding away into the city. From the distance, Big Ben echoed throughout the bustling city, tolling nine. Fighting his way out of the crowd, editor Jacobs spotted the soaked Jules sitting on his bike, still staring at the front page placard of the London Fog.

“Jules!” He tore his head away from the paper as editor Jacobs came rushing towards him, Jules flipped his cap on the right way, attempting futilely to press the wet wrinkles out of his clothes as his boss approached.

“Jules, my boy, what on Earth are you doing here?”

“I saw the cover of the newspaper and just had to stop, then this crowd gathered and I lost track of time.”

“Well, perhaps it was best that you were here. I think, for better or for worse, history was made today.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean London, whether it likes it or not, needs Tarantella. I don’t know if she is guilty, and in truth, no one may ever know for sure what, if anything, she had to do with these children, but to simply single her out is a dangerous move. Tarantella is powerful, you would have to be a fool to admit she is not, but for her to avoid capture all of these years and still have the audacity to abduct a girl in broad sight…something, Jules, does not add up. I will say this, I cannot imagine that this ‘gathering’ tonight will end well.”

“What do you think she will do?”

“Have you ever heard of anyone crossing Tarantella?”

“No.”

“Exactly.” Editor Jacobs said matter-of-factly. Pulling back his sleeve, he checked his gold watch.

“Good lord look at the time. It seems we are both late.”

“I’m sorry, I just wanted to see…”

Mr. Jacobs held up his hand, shushing Jules with a slick smile. “If you don’t tell, neither will I.”

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“Well, if it isn’t little orphan Jules…” Jules stopped mid-step, his eyes rolling as the familiar voice called back. “Nice bike Jules, what kind of glue is it held together with?”

Bruno Starch, tall with chocolate brown hair and deep hazel eyes, looked just like his father, who of course was none other than Simeon Starch, the intoxicating politician. Bruno was Officer Starch’s only son, and he was Bruno’s only parent. He had spent the entirety of his life in the upper crust of London, mingling with the dignitaries of the world and being fawned upon by their wives. By the looks of it, Bruno had been given anything he ever wanted, he had his own driver, he went to the Stapleton Preparatory School, located right in London, dressed in only the finest clothes and did whatever he pleased. Jules found it odd that a person with such privilege, and such a wonderful father, particularly seeing as he had no parents of his own, could turn out like Bruno did. When Bruno Starch was not the object of affection in his father’s eyes, or an indentured celebrity among the elite of London, he was a nightmare. Though, he rarely got in trouble for his nefarious acts.

Generally, Bruno would simply walk into a shop, demand service, then treat the waiters and staff like garbage, trashing the place or just leaving a mess, never tipping and always hurling insults at them while he and his gang of fattened buds sat around all day. Some of them closed shop when they saw him coming, others just prayed he would not choose them.

When not terrorizing the shop owners for fun, Bruno would turn to children. More than once, he and his gang beat up a child of Burnbridge. Jules had never seen him before, but the damage afterwards was terrible; the bruised, bloodied children walking into the orphanage sobbing in pain. They would talk to one another, telling how Bruno and his gang, out of all the children in London, would always come to them, but never, ever, would they tell the Kulch.

Jules knew why. Bruno, one day, decided to pick on one of the little ones from the orphanage, right in the front walk way just two years ago. Mr. Starch was the head of Scotland Yard back then, and had come to the orphanage to address a pressing matter with the Kulch, leaving Bruno outside to “play”.

Bruno immediately found a small boy named Tyldon who was busy catching butterflies next to the road. Jules watched, throwing a baseball into the sky and catching it again in his hands as Bruno inched ever closer to the boy. Jules, even then, knew what Bruno was like. He clenched the ball, rising from the grass as Bruno grabbed the net out of the boy’s hands. He watched for Bruno to make his move. Then, like clockwork, Bruno swung his arm back and knocked the boy over, laughing as the helpless boy shrank in fear from the brute.

“What is this? A butterfly net? What are you a whoopsy?!” Bruno swung the delicate net like a club through the air, laughing as the tiny boy whimpered for him to stop, fearing he would break it.

“Oh, you think I’m gonna break it? Well let me put you out of your misery.” Bruno held the net over his knee, smiling smugly as the boy cowered on the ground, and then snapped it in two, laughing hysterically at the crying boy.

It was the first time the feeling washed over Jules. It was the same every time: anger, hate, passion…injustice ignited a fire in Jules unlike anything he ever felt. He didn’t understand it. It coursed through his veins, like justice-adrenaline pushing his muscles into action. Hand crushing the baseball, Jules ran towards Bruno, pulling his arm, like a gun cocked and ready to fire. Then, he threw the ball with a snap. The baseball tore through the air like a leather bullet and hit Bruno square between the shoulders, sending him flying forward onto the ground below.

Jules ran for Bruno, watching as he was bent down and gasping for breath, the shattered remains of Tyldon’s net lying next to him. Anger boiled in Jules, blood thumping through his ears, his fists curling as Bruno lay on the ground. Jules stopped over the oaf, fists tight, trembling.

“Apologize to him.” Jules demanded through clenched teeth. Bruno turned his head up to look at Jules, pushing himself from the ground to face him, still breathless, but with a sly smirk.

“Ah…it’s you…” His breath caught him, coughing as he stretched his back where the ball hit. “ Jules isn’t it? The Kulch told my father that you’re nothing more than a menace! ”

Jules’ fists never relented, still cocked at his sides. “The only menace I see is standing in front of me, he picked on a six-year-old with a butterfly net.” Bruno’s smirk fell quickly, nostrils flaring as he egged closer to Jules.

“What are you gonna do Jules? My father is the head of Scotland Yard! He could throw you in jail without a trial or even thinking poorly.” He sniggered, the whimpering boy shaking his head at Jules, trying to say something, but Jules’s anger blinded him.

“Say you’re sorry, NOW.”

“Piss off, Jules.” Bruno barely turned around before Jules swung in his fist through the air, meeting Bruno’s head just seconds after he looked away. Bruno fell over to the ground below, holding the side of his bloodied face, eyes wide and livid as Jules stood overhead, fuming. Bruno’s legged shot out towards Jules, hitting him square in the shin. Jules fell to the ground grasping the grass in pain as he crawled up to Bruno’s head. Jules held his fist overhead, looking down the cowering bully, then he swung. Suddenly, a leathery, bony hand caught his fist mid air, followed by the cold, coarse skin of a second hand on his neck as it pulled him to his feet. Ms. Kulch had caught Jules and apologized deeply to the famous boy as Bruno left with his father, who, of course, had said no harm was done. Still, despite Mr. Starch’s insistence it was no problem, the Kulch drug Jules inside and beat him with her rod right in front of the entire orphanage.

Jules wanted revenge on Bruno, not only for himself, but also for Tyldon, who never was able to replace his net.  Jules watched one morning as he just sat on the hillside, watching the butterflies sadly above the knoll. That same morning at the bakery Jules got his regular pastry, only this time, he pulled out a bottle of pickling powder that Ms. Kulch used to preserve her cabbage. A pickling agent that just happened to look like powdered sugar. Jules doused the pastry in the powder and waited for Bruno to make his morning rounds. It was like clockwork. Upon his arrival, Bruno saved Jules the need to plan a way to offer it, as he stole the pastry right out of Jules’ hand. Bruno made his usual snide comment, then signed his own embarrassment certificate on the dotted line, eating the laced donut greedily.

Bruno got one bite into the pastry before he began coughing and gagging, the powder sucking all of the moisture out of his mouth. He began to choke.

“OH DEAR! Someone help him!” A hysterical woman screamed frantically from the back of the stuffy shop.

Jules beamed at the chaos ensuing, a huge, smug smile breaking across his face.

“Allow me.” Jules said, standing to face the purple-flushed oaf. He cranked back his arm, formed his fist and with a conniving wink, drove it into Bruno’s stomach. Bruno gagged and launched the piece of pastry onto the window of the bakery, tears flying from his eyes after the impact, coughing and gasping for air in front of the patrons. Jules laughed, Bruno stormed away, his hatred seething.

They have been enemies ever since.

“Jules, Jules, Jules…how can my father expect to get his paper on time with such a piece of sod delivering it?”

At that his posse of equally annoying friends laughed along with him, like a pack of cackling, drugged hyenas, following his every cue as he kicked the bike. Jules was quick to his feet.

“The only piece of sod I see around here is staring me in the face.”

Bruno levitated.  A fist forming out of pure subconscious anger, he clenched it tight, ready to swing.

“Aw, Bruno!” He stopped himself in what felt like mid-swing. Mr. Jacobs, the editor of the London Fog, towered behind him.

“How is that father of yours? You know, the one you will never live up to?”

Bruno’s jaw dropped. “Ah! How dare you! When my father hears about this he’ll…”

“He’ll what?  Call the newspaper?! Ha! Get out of here!”

Bruno turned and left, his gang grumbling as they went. Jules and the Mr. Jacobs smiled at each other as he went back inside.

“Mr. Jacobs wait!” Jules called after the man, the newspaper still in hand, Tarantella’s name sprawled the front.

“Jules?” His tiny brown eyes and bald headed face inquiring back.

“Um…what, what do you know about Lady Tarantella?”

The editor frowned at Jules, his eyes finding the newspaper in the boy’s hand. “Oh Jules, I wasn’t nothing but a boy back when it happened…but I do remember when my father came in one night. He smelled terrible, like kerosene, and he was drunk. It took him hours to come around, and when he finally did, it was all he could do to tell me what happened.”

“What happened?”

“ Well…I’ve seen her once before, at night. She walks with a cane to support the black, twisted spider leg that extends from her body. She is always covered in white silk, silk she makes and spins herself, and she moves like a ghost. I never saw her face, but I hear that it is damned by Satan himself, with two huge, dripping fangs and eight glassy, black eyes that move and shift as they look at you. If you get close enough, you can hear the grinding and clanking of metal as she sharpens her fangs.”

“But…how?” He inquired.

The editor’s eyes darkened. “How did she get this way? That paper you’ve got there pretty much has the gist of it. I have to tell ya though, hearing the people talk about it back then is like talk of another war these days…people shake just at the mention of it.”

“Parents, family. She has to have one.” Jules interjected, engrossed.

“She did, a ruddy good one too if you ask me, but she ran them off just like everyone else. Her poor mother was trampled to death, but no bodies of her father or sister were ever found. They just disappeared, never to be heard from again…listen to me jabbing on all day long! You’ve got a route to finish and I am not covering your ass one more time, so pedal fast.” He said, turning back into the glass door of the London Fog.

Jules smiled, flipping on his striped baseball cap.

Americans have great taste. He thought to himself. Peddling furiously away from the printing press, he tore through the streets of London. Yet, as his legs burned the wheels of his bike into the pavement, his mind wandered, the tire squeals of the night before echoing in his head as he pulled a paper from his basket and read the headline once more:

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Jules slept hard through the night, the kind of sleep so deep, so concentrated, that you are in pain when you wake. Jules’ sleeping pain, though, was quickly forgotten as the throbbing of his leg woke him, coursing through his head in nauseating waves. Pulling apart the shambles of what was left of his pants, the inflamed, raw skin of his leg appeared before him. Overnight the wounds has closed, she had not hit him as hard as she usually did, and the pain was manageable, but sickening. Looking above, Samantha lay asleep in her bed, finally resting quietly.

He got up, steadying himself on the foot of her cot, and looked down on the little girl. Her precious, porcelain skin shimmered in the sunlight streaking through the windows, a lock of golden hair falling down her pillow as she slept for the first time in days. Certain she was okay; Jules stumbled out the door, struggling through the pain as he walked down to the front door of the Orphanage and out into the warm morning sun. Hurt legs or not, Jules was getting away from Burnbridge. Ambling to the overgrown, thistle-ridden bushes that surrounded the estate, Jules found his rusty old bike hiding amongst the brambles. Pulling it free from the thorns, Jules swung a leg over the seat and rode off towards London, each push of the pedal burning as his legs reminded him of the Kulch’s never ending grasp.

He peddled furiously, legs throbbing, the pain freeing him as fantasies of leaving Burnbridge flooded his brain. Jules was a paperboy, a damn good one at that. His route took him from the inner city to the most rural of manors. Jules knew everyone and, conversely, everyone knew Jules. He always arrived early morning at the paper depot where he collected his deliveries for the day. His route was long. Many times he would go quite literally from sun up to sun down, eating at Cains Bakery just across the street from the London Fog printing press when he got hungry. Mrs. Cains, the baker, always treated his meal of course, and in return, Jules managed to forget to collect his dues from her at the end of the month. It was his only bit of relaxation most days, as he would dash off to the other end of London once done with his meal.  Today, though, as he pulled into the London Fog printing press, he picked up his newspapers and the headline, for once in his delivery life, actually caught his eye…

Click on the newspaper and click again to magnify the article

Jules’ mind wandered as he held the paper, the shrill squeals of the motorcar he had heard the  night before echoing through his head. Next to the article was a small photograph of the officer addressing the public. He was a handsome man. Tall, with short blonde hair and great green eyes like emeralds. He always wore a long, black button down coat with a bright green tie that matched his eyes. Jules had met Officer Starch once before, many months ago, during his campaign.

It was on a sunny Friday afternoon, and the Kulch was in an odd, but ever so nasty mood. For the whole of the night and day previous, she had set the children to scrubbing the entire orphanage, right down to the tiniest crack and stained lampshade in the decaying mansion. The day of his visit, though, they had all been woken up before dawn to practice their etiquette and eat their grossly undercooked breakfast. Topping it all off, the entire orphanage had to get washed in the one working shower in the whole building. It was a dank, jerry-rigged hole in the wall with a faucet that spouted ice water on each of the children while they had but a matter of minutes to slough themselves with a bar of lye and a pumice stone. Jules hated days he was forced into the “shower”. As afternoon approached, the Kulch barked for them to get into their best clothes, at the time Jules had not the foggiest as to what had gotten the Kulch into such an odd, and sober, rampage, but as she lined them up in the foyer, all fifty-something of the “No-name brats”, Officer Starch and his entourage of assistants, including one very eager reporter from the London Fog, entered into the walls of Burnbridge Orphanage.

Jules remembered what it was like, seeing him for the first time. Something stirred inside of him. While the others turned to one another, whispering excitements in each other’s ears, Jules was left silent, unable, against all of his reasoning, to say anything. Starch’s shimmering eyes met those of the children, bending low as he looked in each one of their faces, greeting them individually as he went. Jules was the oldest boy in the orphanage at twelve years, but the feeling was still the same on visits such as this when the possibility that one of them, any of them, could be adopted. He had lined up like this since he was old enough to walk, standing at attention, no name, no talking while a stranger judged your looks. Most were polite when they came, simply passing over the undesirables, their reasons unknown.

Jules could imagine though, Hmm…not that one, the freckles are out of place; Oh no, not him, his face is far too long; ugh, not her, what ugly colored eyes. Time after time Jules watched them come and go, taking child after child, as he remained. More than once, though, a couple showed interest in him. His heart would skip a beat, imagining what life would be like when he went home with his new family, but then the Kulch would take them into the study.

That is where she would always take the parents right before a child left.

Jules assumed it was to sign papers, or get a lecture from the Kulch on the damnable state of children those days. For the others, every time the family came out of the study they did so with arms open, sometimes crying as they embraced their new child, and the orphan, their new family.

Jules, though, was never embraced.

Every time anyone came out of the study that had shown interest in him they would leave as quickly as possible. Some even refused to look at Jules as he waited hopefully outside of the door, pleading silently that they would take him, only for them to walk out the front door without so much as a glance back. Jules cried himself to sleep those nights, never understanding why no one ever wanted him. By age eight, though, he stopped wondering, or even caring. He just stood there, never smiling, never talking, eyes fixed on the ground as the prospective parents passed over. Nobody wanted him, and he needed nobody. It was a cruel fate to live in an orphanage all the while thinking you were never going to be adopted, but over time, Jules’ anger started fueling him. Justice was something he would have to make for himself. He had always seen London as a wondrous place, but not anymore.

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…that was morning. Laying alone in his cot, Jules replayed the vision of that day, the familiar fire  of injustice igniting in Jules once again. All day he waited, and now was the time.

Jules felt each echoing rasp from Sam as he approached the thin door of the Kulch’s sitting room. Peering through the crack in the doors, he saw the brown bottle of black medicine. It was only feet away in the wastebasket, yet as he shifted his weight between feet, the old wood beneath him creaked. His heart stopped. If the Kulch heard him he would never make it out of the decrepit sitting room, much less get the medicine. Carefully twisting the handle, he crept into the only room of the orphanage he had never seen before.

It was dark, lit only by the light emanating through an old, frosted French door that led into the Kulch’s bedchamber. A dust laden armchair sat next to the wire wastebasket, the sickly-sweet smell of stagnate liquor hanging in the air as he creaked his way to the bottle of medicine. He reached the basket, and dropping his hand into the trash bin, Jules pulled out the brown bottle. Happy with himself, he wasted no time in bolting out of the room, wood floor creaking in a symphony of noise as he ran out of the room and into the west wing across the hall to Samantha. Three beds into the moonlit he saw Sam. Her porcelain skin, wavy blonde hair, pale and powder blue eyes were wrapped in an old white night gown, a hand-me-down from an older girl at Burnbridge. Jules watched at the foot of the bed as her fragile, little chest shook and struggled, spasming into a fit of coughs as she lay asleep.

Opening the bottle with his teeth, Jules bent down and tapped the girl on the shoulder. She awoke with a start, fatigue ravaging her face and fear dilating her pupils, as though she had just been through a barrage of endless nightmares. Jules smiled at her, his old, American baseball cap flipped on backwards revealing his kind green eyes, unscrewing the cap of the brown bottle. Jules held the cap in hand and flipped the bottle around to the scribbled, hand written note glued onto the bottle. Jules squinted and studied the writing, trying to read the doctor’s scribbles, and after a short while, the words jumped out at him.

Antitoxin – two teaspoons at morning and night. Jules stared at the bottle, there was no way the Kulch had measuring spoons, so Jules did the guy thing and just guessed, using the bottle cap as a makeshift spoon. Once it was full, he brought it the girl’s lips, but her mouth stayed closed, peering into him through exhausted eyes. Jules saw the fatigue in her, she was just barely well enough to look at him, but he kept the cap at her lips and nodded quickly. That split second, they understood each other and she sipped down the medication, finishing the last drop as she burst into a fit of coughs, the medicine burning her tender throat as it slid down.

Taking the cap from her shivering hand, Jules kept watch on the door at the end of the dormitory, his pulse quickening with each passing moment as the doorway remained still and silent. Looking down, he realized he had no pockets, no way to sneak the medicine out. So Jules lifted the corner of Sam’s bed, and carefully placed the brown bottle of Antitoxin underneath the brown mattress.

“Who are you?” A timid voice called from above, soft and weak. Jules lifted his head up from underneath the bed and looked into the tired, crystal eyes staring down at him.

“I’m…I’m Jules.” He stammered, his voice breaking as he stared into her porcelain face, the pearl white skin and blonde locks framing her eyes which shimmered even in the dim moonlight. Returning his gaze, she clutched her hands underneath her head, chilling under the flimsy blanket that clung to her slight body. She coughed into her bed, careful not to expose Jules, and wet her lips as she spoke once more.

“Are you an angel?” She asked of him, her expression a fragile mixture of wonder and fear.

Jules’ heart of steel broke a little when she asked, his eyes searched her for what seemed like an eternity, trying to find an answer that would satisfy the sweet little girl before him. Yet, as he looked in her face, he found that he could not possibly lie to her.

“No.” He answered softly, lost for words, but managing a smile back at her all the while.

“You’re damn right you’re not!” A shrill, terrible voice snarled from behind Jules. His stomach jumped into his throat, but before he had time to even turn, a shockwave of pain flew threw his back, knocking the air out of him. Jules flung out his arms and caught himself on the metal bedpost opposite Sam. The cool trickle of blood ran down his back, searing his cuts from the Kulch’s rod. Fighting against the pain, he tried to pull himself up, fist clenched, ready to finally do what he had always dreamed of since he was abandoned at Burnbridge. Just as he feet found the ground, though, the Kulch swung at his calves, clipping both of them in one agonizing swipe, sending Jules tumbling to the floor once again. Jules batted his eyes, clearing the tears from them as the pain surged through his body, like thousands of electric knives jabbing him at once. Yet, as he laid there in the floor, covered in blood, the tears knocked out of him, Jules’ gaze never left Sam’s, her eyes welling with tears as she stared back at the hurt boy. The Kulch’s face dropped down in front of Jules sight, blocking Sam, the colorless eyes peering amusedly at Jules through white, leathery sockets. Jules yearned to cry out from the pain, but stifled himself, staying still and emotionless, but shaking from his wounds, as the Kulch scorned him.

“If I had wanted the little brat to stay alive, I would have given her the medicine myself.” Jules dared not move from, her nose just inches from his own, the sweet stagnant breath filling his lungs with each shallow breath. “You know, your mother…” Jules eyes twitched, growing wide when she said it, she knew my mother. He did not move or flinch, his face stayed sallow and tear-stained, but the Kulch had noticed.

“…oh yes, I knew your mother Jules. A real philanthropist, plagued with the same anger towards injustice that you are. It made me sick to watch her, bloody child always trying to help some sick, dying thing. What a tired motivation. I suppose she expected me to do the same with you when she left you here at the orphanage? Ha! What a surprise she would be in for if she could see you today, the cold, rebellious, menace Jules. Orphan and malignancy to this god forsaken planet.” She leaned into him, the reek of alcohol suffocating him. Her eyes narrowed into slits of anger, the veins in her neck pulsing as she spoke.

“Understand this. You have no idea what I have seen. You have no idea who is really out there. Injustice?  You, London, the world, don’t know the meaning of the word. Make no mistake, Jules. You are alive because I wake up every day and ALLOW you to live.” Her colorless eyes trembled, hatred pulsating from her as she stood up, towering over the bloodied Jules, a broad smile breaking across her face.

“I could have you both on a fever van to St. Paul’s in an hour. You know what the church does to children like you? They put them in the catacombs. The sick ones are studied, but the bad are experimented on. Terrible things happen to those who are deemed helpless by the church. Do you believe me Jules?” She said in a shrill laugh, watching his every quiver as disbelief clouded his eyes. Her malevolent smile fell as she lowered her head to Jules, her sunken sockets nestling drink dazed pupils, voice laced with venom.

“I would be elated to prove it to you.”

A cruel, menacing smile broke across her face, suspended in the moonlight as she rose from Jules, cackling hatefully as she strutted out of the lonely hall, leaving Jules shivering on the floor, his leg bloodied, tears knocked out of him as he stared into the terrified, fear-stricken face peering out from underneath the sheets. Jules gaze never left Sam even as his eyes gave way to the night.

One day…one day…

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